By Sara Pagones and Katie Moore | The Advocate | March 14, 2019
Terry Cederholm II, a patrol deputy who was fired by the St. Tammany Parish Sheriff’s Office this week following a felony drug arrest, had a rocky history with the agency, having resigned in 2009 under the cloud of a criminal investigation.
But Cederholm, whose parents both work for the Sheriff’s Office, was rehired five years later despite significant blots on his employment record. Then-Sheriff Jack Strain personally authorized Cederholm’s rehiring in a 2014 email.
Rafael Goyeneche, president of the watchdog Metropolitan Crime Commission, said Cederholm’s record should have disqualified him from being hired by any law enforcement agency. He called the decision to bring him back on the force a “head-scratcher.”
“The only person who can answer that is … Jack Strain,” Goyeneche said.
Cederholm, 36, was arrested Tuesday and booked on one count of possession of a Schedule IV drug, a felony, and two misdemeanor counts of possession of a legend drug without a prescription.
Attorney Roy Burns, who is representing Cederholm, said his client denies that he committed any criminal activity and will ultimately be vindicated.
“Further, Major Cederholm is a respected and long serving member of the St. Tammy Sheriff’s Office. His son has never been given any preferential treatment by this Sheriff’s Administration or the prior Administration,” Burns said in an email.
Strain, who left office in 2016, is under federal investigation for an alleged kickback scheme at a work-release program that involved two members of his inner circle at the Sheriff’s Office, David Hanson and Skip Keen, and their adult children. The pair pleaded guilty last month; Strain has yet to be charged.
But even before those allegations became public, Strain had drawn criticism for showing favoritism to friends and their family members.
In the case of Cederholm, Strain rehired him despite the criminal probe and two earlier incidents that prompted suspensions from the Sheriff’s Office — including one time when Cederholm showed up for firearms instruction with alcohol in his system.
Cederholm was first hired to work in the jail in 2007; a year into the job, he was given a one-week suspension for wiping pepper spray on a toilet seat. It was described in records as a practical joke, but it caused burns to a co-worker.
In 2009, Cederholm was given another week-long suspension after showing up at a firing range with alcohol in his system, according to records. His instructor thought the incident warranted dismissal.
“Captain, never in my career have I seen an employee that was so cavalier regarding their inappropriate actions,” Lt. Mark Arroyo, who was the firearms trainer, wrote in a memo to Capt. Sterling Hebert, who was in charge of the training and education division.
“I recommend that Cadet Cederholm be terminated immediately, before he brings further disgrace upon this agency,” Arroyo said.
Cederholm signed off on the suspension on Feb. 16, 2009. But just three days later, he abruptly resigned after a bizarre incident in which he called a woman in the middle of the night using a co-worker’s phone.
He demanded to speak to her daughter and claimed to be a Pearl River police officer working on a stolen weapon case, records show, and then said he was a narcotics agent with the Sheriff’s Office.
The gun in question was Cederholm’s own weapon, a .45-caliber Glock semi-automatic handgun he had reported stolen the day after he was suspended.
Detective Michael Ripoll, who was investigating the theft of the weapon, discovered there had been a complaint about someone impersonating a law enforcement officer. The woman who had received the 2:45 a.m. call from Cederholm on Feb. 19 had called the Sheriff’s Office.
Ripoll brought Cederholm in for voluntary questioning later that day. According to the report, Cederholm said he had called the home because he believed someone who lived there knew the whereabouts of his gun.
That person had been at the scene of the theft, a trailer park, he told Ripoll.
But the report said Cederholm was “hesitant to answer” questions about why he had been there. “Mr. Cederholm changed his story several times concerning whether the gun was actually stolen and whether it was sold,” the report said.
At one point, Ripoll asked Cederholm why he had filed a false police report. “Mr. Cederholm stated that he did not want to have to explain to his father why he no longer had possession of his pistol,” the report said.
At the end of the interview, Cederholm said he wanted to make an official statement that the gun had indeed been stolen. That same day, he tendered his resignation.
“I feel it would be in the best interest of the St. Tammany Parish Sheriff’s Department because of personal issues it would be to everyones (sic) best interest that I resign my commission,” the handwritten letter said.
The burglary case was deactivated on Feb. 27. The investigation into the complaint about impersonating a law enforcement officer was dropped on March 24. The records indicate that the complainant no longer wished to pursue the matter.
Goyeneche said it was puzzling that a law enforcement officer could be involved in multiple such incidents and still get rehired. Cederholm’s personnel file should have said that he resigned while under investigation, Goyeneche said, which would have alerted any other agency contemplating hiring him.
It’s not clear if he sought another law enforcement job. Documents indicate he worked as a flagman for the parish and in construction between stints with the Sheriff’s Office.
While law enforcement agencies make mistakes, Goyeneche said, actions taken by Strain are inevitably looked at in a different light now that he is known to be under investigation — not only by federal authorities, but also by state authorities looking into accusations of sexual abuse of teenagers.
But in the case of this week’s drug arrest, Goyeneche said, the Sheriff’s Office did the right thing.
“I’m disappointed in this former employee’s conduct,” current Sheriff Randy Smith said in a prepared statement. “I have always held my employees to a very high standard and will not hesitate to terminate and/or arrest any employee who violates the public’s trust.”