Port Arthur sued for millions for handling of Gauthier disappearance case, attorney says officers turned PAPD into personal ‘playground’

By David Yates | Jan 23, 2018

BEAUMONT – Nearly three years ago, Joseph Gauthier’s truck was found empty and still running atop the Rainbow Bridge. His disappearance sparked headlines and an investigation that seemingly has only yielded a lawsuit.

Seeking “substantially in excess” of $1 million in damages, Joseph’s wife, Carol Gauthier, filed suit against the city of Port Arthur, Scott Gaspard and Mickey Sterling on Jan. 19 in Jefferson County District Court.

Gaspard, a sergeant at the time, and Sterling, a detective, were the Port Arthur Police Department officers in charge of the “poorly run” investigation and are accused of being abusive toward Carol throughout the investigation, according to the lawsuit.

“When calling for information about her husband, Gaspard and Sterling hung up on (Carol), belittled her and bullied her,” the suit states. “She was told, in angry and sarcastic tones, to ‘go get therapy’ and that the department was ‘shutting her case down.’”

Paul “Chip” Ferguson, Carol’s attorney, told the Record the police officers mishandled the investigation. 

“They mishandled it as part of their ongoing scheme to make the Port Arthur Police Department their own playground,” Ferguson said. “They made money off the police department, they used their position to gather favor and they used it to further their tawdry behavior and affairs. 

“Carol Gauthier did not care about any of that – she only wanted to know what had happened to her husband.”

In March 2016, Karen Jannise was added to the investigation, a psychic who claimed Joseph spoke to her through yellow butterflies.

Despite Carol objecting to Jannise’s involvement, Jannise became a representative of the officers, often communicating to Carol through texts and emails.

“During this time, it became known that Gaspard had become involved in an illicit extramarital affair with Jannise,” the suit states. “Gaspard, with Sterling’s full knowledge, used the Joseph Gauthier investigation as a pretext to continue his tawdry, sexual relationship with the psychic.”

The suit further claims that Sterling, at the same time, was involved with Angela Ashcraft. Sterling was allegedly domineering and violent toward Ashcraft, leading her to kick him out of her residence.

“Gaspard and Sterling learned that Jannise’s communications with Carol Gauthier had included personal details about Gaspard and their clandestine relationship as well as personal information regarding Sterling,” the suit states.

“Bound by fear and desperation, Gaspard and Sterling decided to act.”

The two men are accused of being part of a faction in the department that lived outside the law, using their position for power and greed – a mindset that permeated PAPD and was tolerated by the city’s management, according to the lawsuit.   

In April 2016, a year after the disappearance, Gaspard and Sterling fabricated a false warrant in order to search Carol’s home and seize her and her daughter’s electronic devices.

“Scott Gaspard and Mickey Sterling thought it was great sport to have the female psychic working with them, especially given Gaspard’s illicit relationship with her,” Ferguson said. 

“Unfortunately, the psychic let Carol Gauthier in on the secret and Gaspard and Sterling could not risk that. Their unlawful empire was put in jeopardy.  So they lied to a judge, got an illegal search warrant and made Carol Gauthier’s life a virtual hell on earth.”

When the department learned of the officers’ illegal behavior, Gaspard resigned. Sterling was put on indefinite suspension.

“Such bad conduct and violations of policy or law were not unusual for Gaspard and Sterling,” the suit states. “Both had prior incidents contained within their files.

“It is known that Sterling kept and watched pornographic videos on his work computer while Gaspard kept and stored pornographic, obscene and racist materials on his work computer.”

The suit further accuses the two men of using PAPD to enrich themselves and its resources to carry out vendettas against ex-wives, girlfriends and other individuals.

“Once again, we find ourselves dealing with the misconduct of the few that disparages the good works of the many,” Ferguson said. “Carol Gauthier wanted help and she wanted answers.  Instead, these Port Arthur policemen misled her, tricked her and, ultimately, violated her in her own home.”

The city and PAPD are accused of failing to adequately supervise and train Gaspard and Sterling, creating a violation of Carol’s constitutional rights.

“To this day, not one single person from the city or the department has reached out to try and make this right,” Ferguson said. “When they chose not to make it right, it became our job to make it right. 

“That is what this lawsuit is about.”

Ferguson is the founder of The Ferguson Law Firm in Beaumont. Attorney Jane Leger is also representing Carol.

Judge Baylor Wortham, 136th District Court, has been assigned to the case.

Case No. D-201186

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