Port Arthur police officers terminated

Mickey Sterling (inset) and Rickey Antoine

More than one veteran police officer was released from duty at the Port Arthur Police Department within a week’s time. Mickey Sterling and Rickey Antoine were terminated from employment on consecutive Fridays amid allegations of impropriety. Both had been on administrative leave pending a final decision to terminate or to return them to work by PAPD Chief Patrick Melvin. 

Officer Darren Johnson, placed on administrative leave at the same time as Antoine, resigned.

Sterling and Antoine both have rights granted by the Texas Civil Service statute that would allow an appeal of PAPD’s decision to cut ties with the ousted police officers.

In spite of any potential appeal, Sterling and Antoine have both been scrubbed from the department’s website, Antoine’s picture removed from the traffic unit lineup, and newspaper articles penned by and about Antoine once proudly displayed at PAPD have been removed, leaving only blank space.

Sterling, formerly a detective at PAPD, was the first to go, terminated June 2 after being placed on “administrative leave” in February. In an exclusive interview with The Examiner, the chief complainant sparking Sterling’s release spoke about harassment she said she faced at the hands of Sterling and other officers tasked with investigating her husband’s disappearance.

Carol Gauthier, a local educator, said PAPD officers ignored her pleas to thoroughly investigate her husband’s disappearance and ultimately ended up investigating her under false pretenses. Gauthier said she suffered retaliation from officers investigating her husband’s disappearance after she made complaints about them, with the officers going so far as to attain a “fraudulent, fabricated” affidavit to search her house to cover up their wrongdoings. She contends that she was verbally harassed and that police confiscated her phone to try to get rid of text messages that she said would incriminate the officers. She said the bullying was caught on tape, recorded by an officer’s police body camera.

Gauthier said her nightmare began April 29, 2015, when police found Joseph Gauthier’s truck, still running, sitting empty atop the Rainbow Bridge in Port Arthur. Investigators presumed the worst — that he had jumped from the bridge and committed suicide. His grieving wife, however, did not believe that was the case. Joseph still has not surfaced two years later, but Gauthier has little hope of ever knowing what became of her husband, she said, thanks to the poorly performed PAPD “investigation.” Gauthier said while they should have been looking into Joseph’s disappearance, officers were consistently insulting and disrespectful of her.

“They basically just mishandled the case,” she stated. “I made numerous complaints against (Sgt. Scott) Gaspard and Sterling. I have suffered a lot of abuse and injustice by that department. All of this has been really hard on me.”

When Gauthier got a call from a self-described medium saying she had a psychic vision about Joseph’s disappearance, she was skeptical but hopeful. She brought the woman to the police department, later describing the action as “the biggest mistake I ever made.”

“She said Joseph would talk to her through ‘yellow butterflies,’” recalled Gauthier. “I eventually had to tell her to stop all contact with me.”

Rumors swirled of a possible romantic connection between the psychic and one of the officers in the Gauthier investigation, and that’s when PAPD executed a search warrant on the grieving widow’s home to determine if she was the one spreading the word.

In February, a PAPD police detective wrote and signed an affidavit “requesting an investigation into policy violations and possible criminal violations.” The detective accused fellow officers of retaliating against Gauthier and double-dipping in hourly pay. He identified five officers, including Deputy Chief Raymond Clark, Deputy Chief John Owens, Detective Mickey Sterling, Sgt. Scott Gaspard and Sgt. Kris Boneau. Sterling, Owens and Boneau were placed on administrative leave. Owens, formerly a major in the department who was once deputy chief, returned to work at PAPD on March 20 at the lower rank and was reassigned from commander of criminal investigations to shift commander in field operations. No disciplinary action was taken against Boneau, and he was absolved of any wrongdoing by the department. Boneau later left PAPD and joined the Nederland Police Department. Gaspard resigned prior to the city’s announcement of officers’ leave. Clark retired.

In a separate investigation, PAPD Officer Rickey Antoine, who notoriously wrote his own mother a traffic citation, according to his own recollection, was accused of accepting “gifts” such as Stacy Adams shoes in exchange for coordinating ticket dismissals.

Antoine, who not only served the PAPD but also wrote a column for the Port Arthur newspaper and had a recurring segment on city radio as an expert in the field of law enforcement, was placed on administrative leave with PAPD forwarding information on the investigation to the Jefferson County District Attorney’s Office on Friday, May 12.

The chief complainant in that investigation also spoke exclusively with The Examiner – not necessarily because he didn’t want others to listen, but because, he said, no one else in the media would listen.

“I went to the Port Arthur News,” Port Arthur resident Darwin Moore said. “They wouldn’t even hear it. I talked to my council person about it – they wouldn’t do anything.”

Moore said he had first-hand knowledge of Antoine’s misdeeds – as he himself paid for a pair of shoes to coerce the officer into getting a ticket (or three) dismissed. Moore said he would contact the Men’s Collection at Central Mall, who then contacted Antoine, to facilitate the deal. And although the local paper and his elected city counsel representative were not interested in his information, PAPD’s Internal Affairs investigators were. Within days of Moore’s report, Antoine was relieved of duty temporarily – which was made more permanent Friday, June 9.

Neither the city nor PAPD Police Chief Patrick Melvin would comment regarding the investigation. City spokesperson LaRisa Carpenter said she could not comment on officer termination, stressing the need for confidentiality due to the Texas Civil Service statute. Although terminated officers have the right of appeal, police departments can cite as cause for dismissal conviction of a felony or other crime involving moral turpitude; violations of a municipal charter provision; acts of incompetency; neglect of duty; discourtesy to the public or to a fellow employee while the firefighter or police officer is in the line of duty; acts showing lack of good moral character; drinking intoxicants while on duty or intoxication while off duty; conduct prejudicial to good order; refusal or neglect to pay just debts; absence without leave; shirking duty or cowardice at fires, if applicable; or violation of an applicable fire or police department rule or special order.

— Sharon Brooks and Jennifer Johnson