Sheriff confronts DA over shooting

Published 12:00 am Sunday, September 21, 2003

By LEONARD Gray-Staff Reporter

(First of a series)

HAHNVILLE – A Feb. 27 incident in which a St. Charles Parish sheriff’s deputy was allegedly nearly killed by a Des Allemands man has contributed to the animosity between the parish’s top two law enforcement officials.

Sheriff Greg C. Champagne, himself a former assistant district attorney, is squaring off against his former boss, 29th Judicial District Attorney Harry Morel Jr., over the handling of the shooting incident.

It has led to legal wrangling, a motion to remove the case from the district attorney’s office, claims of wrongdoing on both sides and counter-claims, dragging in an investigation of the sheriff himself.

The alleged shooter is at home, having been treated for the gunshot wounds he sustained, as he awaits trial for attempted first-degree murder of a police officer.

On Wednesday, during a press conference held by Champagne, the sheriff and several deputies voiced their concern about safety and legal backup.

On Thursday, Morel held a press conference, admitted little and denied nearly everything Champagne alleged.

At the eye of the present storm is Steve Gonzales of the Special Investigations Division of the sheriff’s office, who has served with the sheriff since 1997.

According to Gonzales’s testimony before Judge Robert Chaisson during a June 18 hearing, the incident began when three narcotics detectives responded to an alleged disturbance call on Feb. 27 at Tregle Lane. These included Gonzales, Detective Joe Ganote and Detective Jason Guidry.

While questioning people at the scene, one suggested the officers speak with Terry Baraglia, 34, of 208 Tregle Lane, so Gonzales approached the house.

Gonzales testified he knocked on the door repeatedly, identifying himself as a police officer. He said he heard what seemed to be a person who was agitated. Gonzales stepped away from the door and continued to knock, now with his flashlight, on the side of the house.

Moments later, Gonzales testified, Baraglia burst from the door with a shotgun and fired in the direction of the deputy. Gonzales said he returned fire with four or five shots, striking him in the legs.

After hearing the testimony and examining the evidence, the court found probable cause to hold Baraglia for trial, set a pretrial conference for Aug. 22 and a trial date for Aug. 25.

Baraglia was arrested Feb. 27, released from West Jefferson Medical Center on March 7 and transferred to the Nelson Coleman Correctional Center. He was arraigned on March 10 where Chaisson set bond at $500,000. On April 22, Morel filed a bill of information in the Baraglia case on the charge of attempted first degree murder of a police officer.

Gonzales was placed on administrative leave after the shooting incident, following established procedure.

After the June 18 hearing, where a trial date was set, the matter apparently was complicated from an unexpected source.

(Next issue: The legal wrangling begins)