When rising stars start believing their own press releases it’s likely that trouble will soon appear. That seems to have been the problem for Clay Higgins, the former deputy sheriff in Louisiana who became a TV star for his frank Crime Stopper videos.
What’s happened to Clay Higgins in his campaign for Congress in Louisiana’s Third Congressional District is a lesson not just for him but for all of us. It’s a lesson that facts matter and that we should be smarter than to just believe tough talk with little action or supporting evidence.
No one talked tougher than Higgins when he recorded those Crime Stopper videos for the St. Landry Parish Sheriff’s Office. I ran them on STATter911.com because of the refreshing bluntness. It was an interesting and direct way to get attention for the routine, day-to-day events of a public safety agency. It’s something every agency struggles with and Higgins seemed to have a style that brought attention to the issues.
When Higgins had a falling out with his sheriff, Bobby Guidroz, earlier this year, many of his fans sided with Higgins. There were claims the sheriff was being PC over a controversial Crime Stoppers video that had some racial overtones. Sheriff Guidroz became the target. But as we learn now, that was only part of the story. It turns out the sheriff had been concerned about potential double dipping and Higgins using his role in the department for personal gain.
After leaving the St. Landry Parish Sheriff’s Office Clay Higgins decided to see if his fame transferred to the political field in a run for Congress. That campaign hit a road block in recent days after KLAF-TV’s Cliff Welty sent the sheriff’s office a public records request for emails involving Higgins. Unfortunately for Higgins and his many fans, those emails show a very different side of Clay Higgins — a side that seems very much at odds with his tough guy John Wayne image.
Reading the emails it looks like, as usual, we bought the sizzle and not the steak.
On Higgins’ campaign website he says he’s a strong advocate of “the sacred oath of the badge.” But on department time, Higgins was taking time out of his duties as public information officer and CrimeStoppers spokesman.to email about landing a reality TV show. In a message to a TV producer, Higgins said, “I’m not really money driven, I have a soul…but I’m a capitalist so let’s kick this thing in the expletive, cut a few corners and make a TV show shall we?”
Stockstill said, “In the State of Louisiana, there is a statute on the books called public payroll fraud.” This statute prohibits public officials or anyone working for a public official from being paid private money on public time. Stockstill says public payroll fraud is a very serious charge and it is a felony offense in the State of Louisiana.
In emails obtained by KLAF news, Higgins hired an agent to help book speeches and TV deals including local advertisements. Higgins would charge anywhere from 500 to more than $3,000 for appearances.
In an email dated February 18, 2016, Higgins said, “I handle all law enforcement bookings for a greatly reduced fee as compared to what my agent charges through my LLC. 3250 may sound like a lot, but it’s really not. My agent charges much, much more.”
But in an internal memo, obtained by Salon via a public records request along with the Higgins emails, St. Landry Parish Sheriff Bobby Guidroz clarified the real reasons for Higgins’ departure to the rest of the department. “Clay Higgins formed a personal business venture to raise money by selling mugs, t-shirts, and other trinkets using department badge and uniform. All of which are against department policy,” Guidroz wrote. “I reined Higgins in.”
Higgins’ emails, which contained contract negotiations for his clothing company, confirm this. “Traffic will stabilize and increase… as well as retail sites, all pushed by my public appearances,” Higgins wrote in one email about t-shirt sales, directly linking his police job to his personal money-making ventures.
He also negotiated paid speaking appearances with other police departments. In one email, Higgins discussed his request for a speaker’s fee that included shopping money for his wife and part of the fuel for his friend’s private plane.
“3250 might sound like a lot but it’s really not,” Higgins wrote in a different email. “My [Law Enforcement] only fee basically replaces what I could earn anyway plus compensation for travel time, wear and tear on my [car], and ownership of the video.”