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Louisiana Commissioner Considers Arming Fraud Investigators

Source: NOLA

Posted on 15 Aug 2011

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Insurance Commissioner Jim Donelon said he likely will ask the Legislature next spring to allow his department's fraud investigators to carry guns after two were shot and killed in a Ville Platte agent's office two months ago.

Donelon said Friday that although he has not made a final decision on arming his investigators, "I am leaning that way now."

Police said Kim Sledge and Rhett Jeansonne, both of Denham Springs, were killed when they went to pick up records from suspended insurance agent John Melvin Lavergne in June. Lavergne opened fire on the two before killing himself in his office, police said.

Donelon said he is still grappling with the issue but conversations with his staff and the five current fraud investigators are pushing him in favor of having them certified to carry guns.

He said he needs the authorization of the Legislature under the weapons training and certification law. He said most of his investigators are in favor of seeking the legislation at the next regular session, scheduled to begin March 12, 2012.

Donelon said he has met with State Police officials, representatives of the attorney general's office and others on the details of arming the fraud investigators.

The investigators would have to pass the Peace Officer Standards Training course, which is mandatory for State Police, state wildlife agents, city police officers and constables, parish deputy sheriffs and other law enforcement bodies.

State Police spokesman Sgt. Len Marie said the course takes about 10 to 12 weeks to complete and includes classes on firearms use and training and other law enforcement areas.

Donelon said there is no uniform policy among state insurance regulators on arming their investigators.

He said the two deaths in Ville Platte have given rise to discussions by the National Association of Insurance Commissioners about arming insurance personnel who could be in danger or in tight situations while doing their jobs.

The deaths of the two investigators in Ville Platte, Donelon said, were the second and third among insurance investigators around the country in the last three years.

In 2008, a 40-year-old North Carolina insurance agent was arrested on a charge of murdering state insurance investigator Sallie Rohrbach. Police said she was in Charlotte to investigate "an administrative complaint" filed against agent Michael Arthur Howell at the agency where he worked.

Police said the killing was "connected to her professional duties." "This is a big issue" for the department, Donelon said. "Our people are not ex-law enforcement. POST certification is not a walk-in-the-park difference for them."

He said his fraud investigators have business and insurance backgrounds. "We are talking about a whole different set of skills," Donelon said.

Donelon said State Police have agreed to provide escorts whenever investigators serve "cease and desist orders" on agents ordering them to stop selling insurance or suspending their licenses for allegations of wrongdoing.

In the past, he said, police accompanied fraud agents if they felt they were going into a tense situation or if an arrest was going to be made.

Marie said that State Police Superintendent Mike Edmonson has committed making highway troopers, members of the State Police Insurance Fraud Unit or a local police department or sheriff's deputy available when Donelon's office now requests an escort.