Slain officer’s family sues sheriff
By PRESTON GILL
FRANKLIN — The family of slain Chitimacha tribal officer Sgt. Frederick “Rick” Riggenbach is suing St. Mary Parish Sheriff Mark Hebert and the accused gunman, Wilbert Thibodeaux, for the Jan. 26 shooting in Charenton that also left another man dead and two deputies wounded.
The 16th Judicial Court suit filed Jan. 17 states Riggenbach died in part because a mentally unstable man was not properly evaluated before his release from the St. Mary Parish prison, there was insufficient deputy training, inadequate situational training and a failure to assist wounded officers by the St. Mary Sheriff’s Office.
Bonnie Sue Riggenbach, the officer’s widow, and children, Mary Riggenbach Thompson and William Earl Riggenbach, seek unspecified damages in the suit.
Traci Landry, spokeswoman for the sheriff, said the sheriff’s office does not comment on pending litigation.
The suit states that when he arrived in his marked unit, Sgt. Riggenbach’s car door was struck by the responding deputies, Matthew Strickland and Jason Javier, who were backing out of the scene after the windshield of their car was blasted with buckshot.
Riggenbach exited his vehicle and a gun battle ensued during which the deputies sustained non-lethal injuries and Riggenbach had shotgun wounds to his face which blurred his vision, the suit states.
The deputies “fled the scene by backing the … patrol unit away from the gun battle at a high rate of speed” and eventually entered a second sheriff’s police unit which left the area, never approaching the scene, the suit stated.
Riggenbach, now left alone, was disarmed by Thibodeaux and shot execution style with a deadly shotgun blast to the chest, the suit stated.
Also killed that day was Eddie Lyons, 78, whose mobile home was burned.
The plaintiffs contend the sheriff’s department issued a stand down order to all law enforcement personnel near the area of the shooting and the order resulted in an injured, defenseless Riggenbach confronting Thibodeaux without backup after deputies Strickland and Javier fled the scene.
The plaintiffs contend the two deputies “were improperly trained and lacked the requisite law enforcement experience to respond” to the call. Strickland was new to the department and “was still in the process of obtaining his Peace Officer Standards and Training certification,” the suit said.
The suit claims Thibodeaux was released on Jan. 24 from the St. Mary Parish Detention Center two days after a disorderly conduct arrest at the Cypress Bayou Casino and two days before Riggenbach’s death.
Thibodeaux “was known to suffer from grave mental disorders,” yet was released despite threats he made against the casino and Riggenbach and despite “his obviously unstable condition,” the suit stated.
The shootout occurred after a 911 call reported shots fired, a building on fire and “that Wilbert Thibodeaux was walking along Flat Town Road … with a gas can and shot gun in hand,” the suit stated.
Hebert is named a defendant in the suit in his official capacity as sheriff and operator of the detention center. The suit states Hebert is liable for the negligent acts of the employees of the St. Mary Parish Sheriff’s office and the St. Mary Parish Detention Center.
The suit claims there was a failure by employees of the sheriff and detention center to properly evaluate an inmate before his release; to properly train deputies; to develop an adequate plan to respond to officers in peril from gunfire; negligently issued a stand down order; assigned two inexperienced, non-certified deputies to one police unit; and failed to assist a wounded officer.