Will Sutton: Caddo Sheriff Henry Whitehorn is part of the trend | Columnist Will Sutton


It was a welcome “doubt” for Whitehorn, a career law enforcement officer who led the Louisiana State Police and served as chief of police in Shreveport before retiring.

St. James Parish Sheriff-Elect Claude Louis Jr.

St. James Parish Sheriff-elect Claude Louis Jr. stands next to a Louisiana Sheriffs Association sign. When Louis takes office on July 1, he will be the first black sheriff in the community in a long time. The first was JC Oliver, who served from 1871 to 1872.

Since St. James Parish Sheriff-elect Claude Louis Jr. won his parish election in November, Louis and Whitehorn will join four other black sheriffs in Louisiana this summer.

The other black Louisiana sheriffs are East Carroll Parish Sheriff Wydette Williams, Orleans Parish Sheriff Susan Hutson, St. Helena Parish Sheriff Nathaniel “Nat” Williams and St. John the Baptist Parish Sheriff Mike Tregre.

That's six of 64 parishes with black sheriffs, even though black people make up more than 30% of Louisiana's population. Despite recent progress, the number of black sheriffs remains fairly low.

St. John Parish Sheriff Mike Tregre

Mike Tregre, sheriff of St. John the Baptist Parish

Louis beat his competitor in November. Louis worked at the sheriff's office for more than 18 years, so he knows his stuff. As pastor of Greater Deliverance Second Baptist Full Gospel Church in South Vacherie, he views compassion as a strength he will use as a leader.

In Caddo Parish, where Shreveport is located, the population is about 50% black and 46% white. Democrat Whitehorn defeated Republican John Nickelson in a highly charged election campaign with obvious racial tensions. 43,247 people voted in the runoff election in November. Last month 65,239 people voted.

St. James Parish, which includes South Vacherie, Lutcher and Gramercy, is about 48.9% white and about 48.1% black. Louis beat the sheriff's chief deputy with 50.81% of the vote – a margin of 144 votes. Louis will be the first black sheriff in a long time. The first was JC Oliver, who served from 1871 to 1872.

St. Helena Sheriff Nathaniel "Nat" Williams

St. Helena Parish Sheriff Nathaniel “Nat” Williams.

Sheriffs should serve everyone. But there is a shortage of black sheriffs in Louisiana.

The Southern Poverty Law Center found in a February report that Black people made up about 57% of the state's local prison population in 2019 and 65% of the prison population in 2022.

The criminal justice system includes local, parochial, and state law enforcement agencies; Criminal and juvenile judges as well as defense lawyers. This also includes sheriffs and district attorneys, two of the most influential positions in any community. The sheriff has arrest powers and the prosecutor is responsible for prosecution.

East Carroll Sheriff Wydette Williams (copy)

East Carroll Parish Sheriff Wydette Williams

In most communities without municipal police departments, sheriffs are the main players when it comes to law enforcement and tax collection. Sheriffs also seize property and evict people when judges issue the appropriate orders.

Sheriffs also have jurisdiction over local jails.

In Caddo Parish, for example, 1,463 people are behind bars. Of these, 388 are white. A total of 1,057 are black. St. James has 65 behind bars. Twenty are white and 43 are black.

I argue that most black prosecutors and sheriffs are committed to fighting crime with the resources and tools at their disposal – and they are not afraid to do their part to lock up people who do wrong.

Orleans Parish Sheriff Sheriff Susan A Huston.0002.jpg

Orleans Parish Sheriff's Office Susan A. Hutson Photo provided 2024

I argue that most black prosecutors and sheriffs also work harder to identify the root causes of crime and continually seek ways to prevent crime, including regular education and visits to all communities, particularly black communities.

In an interview, Whitehorn said that when he takes office, deputies and staff — and those incarcerated — will know that inmates will be “treated with dignity and fairness.” He said his office will do the right thing, the right way, for the right reasons and everything will look good.

Caddo Parish District Attorney James E. Stewart Sr. has known Whitehorn since the 1980s, when he was a young prosecutor and Whitehorn was a young undercover agent. They worked on many cases together. He said he is sure the citizens of Caddo will feel and see a difference when Whitehorn is sheriff.

Stewart adds that Whitehorn will “go into our communities” to address critical issues.

Hutson, the only female sheriff in Louisiana, said she was excited to see more black sheriffs. It houses 1,213 people in the Orleans Parish Jail; 1,055 of them are black. “We are overrepresented in the criminal justice system,” Hutson said, adding that black sheriffs “can inspire our communities in different ways.”

Black sheriffs make a difference when children see these authority figures talk about decisions and harsh realities. This diversity can be very helpful.