Vinton area Justice of the Peace resigns; investigations underway

Vinton area Justice of the Peace resigns; investigations underway

LAKE CHARLES, LA (KPLC) - The Justice of the Peace covering the Vinton area has resigned amid at least one investigation into his handling of matters as a public official.

However, Kevin Merchant says health reasons are why he stepped away from the position.

Merchant is well known in Vinton—formerly a town councilman and, more recently, Justice of the Peace.

However, he has resigned and there are two complaints under investigation by the Calcasieu Sheriff’s Office and others who have not asked for formal investigations.

One who called the Sheriff’s Office is Kendra Knape-Flores who says she paid Merchant $100 to file an action against a former landlord she says she gave $1,700 for an apartment that was nowhere ready to move into.

“I couldn’t cook; no hot water. I have a 14-year-old that I need to take care of. So, that’s when I just said ‘I’m moving’. And I went to the JP to file and that’s when it all started with the JP.”

Knape-Flores continues, “He met me at my bank and I gave him the money. 'Said he was going file my case. My case was never filed.”

So, she filed a complaint with the Sheriff’s Office.

“Right is right, wrong is wrong, and this is definitely wrong,” she said.

Another Vinton resident, Sarah Guidry, says Merchant improperly evicted her when she had a contract to buy the property she was renting.

“He was just using his power to do what he wanted to do,” said Guidry. “I lost a house I had been paying on for four years.”

Guidry says she was afraid to complain as long as Merchant was Justice of the Peace.

“I just left it alone because we had just started our business, and being Kevin was in office, and he had done this to our house, I didn’t want him to mess with our business,” said Guidry.

While Calcasieu Sheriff Tony Mancuso confirms they are investigating two complaints on Merchant, he has not elaborated. Mancuso says the investigation does not mean Merchant did anything wrong or whether the matters might be criminal or civil.

Plus, Vinton Constable Christopher Jowers says he received a letter from the State Judiciary Commission telling him there is an investigation and asking him not to discuss it.

Constables and JPs are supposed to split certain fees and Jowers believes he may not have received some fees he is due.

In addition to those complaints, the Assistant D.A. who represents the Niblett’s Bluff Park Commission, says it filed suit against Merchant’s appliance business.

Bob Kleinschmidt confirms the commission paid $1,600 for a coin operated washer/dryer in February and never received it.

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