Interim Jefferson Parish Sheriff Joseph Lopinto confirmed that he has opened an internal investigation into the actions of three deputies who obtained surveillance video from an Elmwood coffee shop where his sheriff’s race opponent, retired Col. John Fortunato, was meeting with other former co-workers.
Lopinto on Wednesday (Jan. 10) declined to identify the three deputies. Lopinto said he did not know about the incident until about a month ago when his office received a public records request about the video from a local news outlet.
“I did not direct anybody to go and get any video,” Lopinto said.
But Fortunato said he believes Lopinto was aware of his meeting and the efforts to retrieve the video.
“I would question the interim sheriff as to what was his justification for allowing members of the Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Office to use the manpower and resources of the office to investigate the three of us, for what crime?” he said.
Lopinto and Fortunato, along with third candidate Anthony Blount, have registered for the March 24 election to fill the unexpired term of former Sheriff Newell Normand. Normand unexpectedly retired on Aug. 31 to begin a career in talk radio.
Fortunato is a 46-year veteran of the department who was a detective before serving as the public information officer under Normand and previous Sheriff Harry Lee. Lopinto worked eight years with the department before he earned a law degree and won a seat in the state House of Representatives. Lopinto returned to the Sheriff’s Office in 2016 as an attorney and was appointed chief deputy in 2017.
The meet-up in question occurred at the PJ’s Coffee, 5359 Mounes St., Elmwood, sometime in October, Fortunato said. He was chatting with retired Chief Deputies Walter Gorman and John Thevenot about a range of subjects from the department to family and football.
“I would never pass up an opportunity to sit down with my former colleagues to talk about things that concern me and the organization,” Fortunato said.
In the days following the meeting, Fortunato learned that deputies, including members of the crime scene unit’s digital forensic team, went to the coffee shop to obtain the business’ surveillance video of the meeting.
“What’s so wrong with three fellow co-workers having a cup of coffee? What’s the justification behind any of this? Who is the interim sheriff to follow me around,” Fortunato asked.
Lopinto said one of the deputies was a personal friend of the coffee shop’s owner and asked for the video. The owner, according to Lopinto, had no problem with turning it over.
A telephone call requesting comment from the business’ owner was not returned.
The additional deputies from the digital forensics unit came over to help the deputy, according to Lopinto.
“He tried to download it. He couldn’t download it. He picked up the phone and said, ‘How do you download it?’ They took a ride over and pulled it,” Lopinto said.
The department is investigating to make sure the…