Port Arthur police officer’s termination arbitration uncovers accusations against former supervisor

Attorney Bob Thomas leans in to speak, sitting next to Mickey Sterling

A Port Arthur police officer terminated by the city is appealing his firing during an arbitration hearing this week, and although he is the one whose fate is being decided, some witnesses accused his former colleague of nefarious actions, including allowing a self-described psychic medium access to confidential information about cases and people.

Former Port Arthur Police Department Detective Mickey Sterling was fired for “untruthfulness” and “insubordinance,” according to Attorney Bettye Lynn, who represents the city police department in the hearing. Combined Law Enforcement Associations of Texas (CLEAT) Attorney Bob Thomas represents Sterling.

PAPD Officer Elie Van Horn was the first to testify at the hearing, which started Nov. 14. Van Horn penned an affidavit accusing then-Detective Sterling and Scott Gaspard, Sterling’s one-time division supervisor and alleged business partner in a police escort service, and others of wrongdoing while employed at the department. Van Horn asserted that he had heard Sterling was “double-dipping” by receiving pay from the police department while making runs for the Professional Police Escorts of Southeast Texas, which provided police escorts for funerals, heavy equipment moving and for other reasons.

Van Horn also said Sterling mishandled a case involving middle school science teacher Carol Gauthier, whose husband is still missing. (Joseph Gauthier’s truck was found on top of the Rainbow Bridge, but his body was never recovered.) Van Horn accused Sterling and Gaspard of conspiring against Gauthier after allegedly hearing she had messages on her phone from Sterling’s girlfriend about an extramarital affair between Gaspard and a psychic, Karen Jannise, with whom Gaspard had appeared on television after Jannise said she had a psychic vision of Pauline Klumpp, a missing woman presumed murdered.

Gauthier said Jannise had originally contacted her to say she had information about her missing husband. Desperate for answers after the investigation went cold, Gauthier said she brought Jannise into the case, calling it “the worst mistake of my life.” Gauthier said even though she wanted to find her husband and believed Jannise may have information pertinent to his disappearance, after a while, she felt Jannise was a fraud.

Gauthier said that while police were investigating her husband’s disappearance, she became acquainted with Sterling’s girlfriend at the time. Gauthier said it was because of her association with Sterling’s girlfriend that the officers must have thought she had messages on her phone pertaining to an alleged affair between Gaspard and the psychic. She believes that is why they obtained a search warrant for her home and cell phone.

April 27, 2016, more than a year after Joseph’s disappearance, officers with the PAPD executed the search warrant on Gauthier’s home. She said the affidavit indicated they were looking for child pornography, a “ridiculous” and potentially harmful accusation against an educator.

“They came in and took all the cell phones in the house,” she recalled. “They were impolite and abusive.”

At the arbitration hearing, she said one of the officers executing the search warrant tore a phone from her 14-year-old daughter’s hand.

“I do not have a criminal record,” she said, though she was made to feel like a suspect in Joseph’s missing person case.

During testimony, Van Horn said Gaspard had attained the search warrant for Gauthier’s home at Sterling’s request to find out if Sterling’s girlfriend’s name was mentioned in text messages. Van Horn, a certified forensic cell phone analyst, testified that he was told to look for child pornography, which he did not find. He said he provided Gaspard with all the information from the phone at Gaspard’s direction.

Van Horn further testified that he believed Gaspard and Sterling had abused the police background check system, generating TransUnion TLO reports about people such as Chief Patrick Melvin and family, and about personal contacts. According to tlo.com, TLO reports provide a comprehensive profile of virtually any person, business or location in the U.S.

Gauthier said Sterling’s former girlfriend told her she could get background checks on anyone and had actually gotten reports on her ex-husband and an ex-boyfriend.

Following Gauthier, Shelly Ranae Ewan testified that she had heard of Sterling and Gaspard. She said she had received TLO reports from psychic Karen Jannise, who she contacted for help with her daughter's sexual assault case after seeing her on TV with Gaspard. She said she too came to see Jannise as a fraud, and said the “self-proclaimed psychic” had “tried to ruin” her daughter's case rather than help it. 

“I’ve given a flash drive to Texas Ranger Joe Haralson” containing copies of the reports, communications between herself and Jannise and other information pertaining to a possible criminal investigation into the officers’ behavior alluded to during the arbitration. 

On day two of the arbitration hearing, Jannise said she had received copies of TLO reports from Gaspard but not from Sterling. She said she kept the reports to “defend” herself in case something came up about it later. She also said she had turned over all information she had about the Gauthier case to Haralson during an interview in Orange.

Jannise testified that when Gaspard resigned, he called her and told her it was to protect her because her name had come up in an internal investigation. Gaspard retired prior to Sterling being placed on paid administrative leave in February. Jannise said Gaspard directed her to delete their e-mails, including the TLO reports she got from him. She said he did not direct her to delete text messages, but she deleted messages that contained “confidential information about cases.” She denied an affair, but said she was privy to rumors circulating about them at the department. She said she heard it when Gaspard put Sterling on speaker phone during a conversation for which she was present.

Attorney Lynn asked Jannise if she had placed bones on Carol Gauthier’s property, likely in an attempt to implicate Gauthier in her husband’s case. Jannise admitted that she threw bones into Gauthier’s yard. Lynn asked her if Sterling or Gaspard told her to do that, and she replied, “No. That was my idea.”

She said she later told Gaspard and Sterling what she had done.

Jannise said she believed Sterling helped Gaspard “word” the affidavit for the search of Gauthier’s home. She said she believed it was because Sterling knew the judge and what language to use to get the warrant signed by the judge.

After Jannise’s testimony, Groves Police Department Investigator Mark Blum, who worked for PAPD for 26 years, testified that he worked with Gaspard and Gaspard’s business “partner” Sterling at the police escort service. He said that though Gaspard’s wife was listed as the business owner, Gaspard and Sterling effectively ran the service. He said he did not know if the officers were double-dipping because officers at the department get flex pay and comptime, which they may have utilized. However, he did mention witnessing an odd comment made by a division secretary who received Sterling’s time sheet.

Blum said he was standing nearby when the division secretary took Sterling’s time sheet, and she said, “What am I supposed to do with this?” Curious, he asked her what she meant. He said she told him that Sterling had put in for “kennel time,” meaning he was requesting extra pay for taking care of a K-9 unit. Blum said the woman found it strange as Sterling had no K-9 unit.

CLEAT Attorney Thomas argued that much of what witnesses said was hearsay, and made numerous objections throughout the hearing. Lynn said she would tie the pieces of the puzzle together as the hearing continues.

The arbitration is scheduled at City Hall through Nov. 16, but the hearing could last longer. If it is not finished by Thursday, the continuation will be scheduled in the coming months.