Stephen Engolio, chief criminal deputy, bids farewell to Iberville Parish Sheriff’s Office

Staff Report

Less than three months after he finished high school, Stephen Engolio landed what he considered his dream job.

The career that has accounted for most of the past 39 years ends June 30, when the chief criminal deputy retires from the Iberville Parish Sheriff’s Office.

It marks the end of a career he began Aug. 1, 1983, at age 18. The Plaquemine resident first wore the badge during Freddie Pitre’s reign as sheriff and remained with the office when Brent Allain when Pitre left office in 2000.

Engolio leaves the post under current sheriff Brett Stassi, who worked as a detective when Engolio joined the force.

His brother, the late Edward Engolio, inspired him to pursue a career in law enforcement.

Chief Criminal Deputy Stephen Engolio with Iberville Parish Sheriff Brett Stassi.

“Ed was 12 years older than me, and he was a deputy and detective all during my formative years and childhood,” Engolio said. “He was my hero, and I wanted to do what he did … I used to hear his stories, I thought it was something I found interesting, and it was what I decided I wanted to do.”

Aside from his admiration for his brother, Engolio cannot fully explain what made him pursue a career in law enforcement.

In fact, it’s not really anything of reason, he said.

“I’ll interview prospective deputies and hear the standard response when I interview them … they’ll say they feel they can add something to the community, or some basic answer like that,” Engolio said. “But it’s really a calling, and you just don’t know what leads you to it.

“You almost can’t define law enforcement.,” he said. “That’s especially the case these days when law enforcement is under the gun … nobody with any sense would purposely seek out a job in this field right now. But for some reason, it just calls, and you go.”

He had the full support of his brother and his father (the late Edward Engolio Sr., a longtime judge in the 18th Judicial District).

Stassi had already begun his work as a detective under Pitre, while Ralph Stassi (the current sheriff’s father) was chief deputy at the time.

Engolio vividly remembers the call he received from Ralph Stassi one Sunday afternoon.

“He asked me if I still wanted to be a deputy and he asked me when I’d turn 18, and I told him I had turned 18 that day,” Engolio said. “It was July 31, and he told me to be in his office the next morning … and that was in 1983.”

A Career Detour

After six years as a deputy, Engolio explored a different career opportunity.

He stepped away from law enforcement in 1989 to attend college at Loyola University, where he earned a degree in Nursing.

He worked as a registered nurse while he continued to serve as a reserve deputy. Although nursing was a more lucrative profession, Engolio realized his true passion was law enforcement.

“Nursing was a more lucrative profession, but my calling and true passion was and always will be law enforcement.”

A full circle

The time in college and nursing led him on the road back to law enforcement, which had been his dream job for many years.

Although nursing was the more lucrative profession, Engolio said his calling and true passion was and always will be law enforcement. It prompted his return to the Iberville Parish Sheriff’s Office in 1994.

He returned to full-time law enforcement about the same time crime was on the rise in Iberville Parish.

Engolio remembers the shift in the types of crimes between the 1980s and 1990s.

He was assigned to narcotics unit initially as a detective but quickly earned the rank of Lieutenant. 

“I still get a lot of blow-back from the days I was narcotics when it was a street crime unit,” he said. “In the late 80s and early 90s, things got bad with a lot of violence, a lot of drugs, a lot of shootings and a lot of murders.”

A dozen murders were reported one year in mid-1990s between the Plaquemine City Police and the Iberville Parish Sheriff’s Office, Engolio recalled.

Normally, they recorded a maximum of two per year.

“That was back when I was in the streets a lot, and I feel that me and my team were instrumental in bringing that under control and back to where we are today,” he said. “It’s not a perfect world today, but it’s a whole lot better than it was in the 1990s.” During his time in narcotics, Engolio was a SWAT Team Leader and he created and led a Narcotic Entry Team. Engolio served in that capacity until he was appointed as Chief Criminal Deputy in July of 2000 by former Sheriff Brent Allain, a position that he has maintained for 22 years and under the tenure to two sheriffs.

His career continued into Sheriff Stassi’s tenure.

Stassi talked about the strong work relationship between him and Engolio.

“Stephen and I for the most part are opposites, and that’s a great thing,” Stassi said. “We complement each other so well; we are perfect balance, 'a yen and yang,' so to speak.

“I need someone to challenge my way of thinking sometimes,” he said. “It’s easy with Stephen because I trust him.  He thinks with his head and then he thinks with is heart.”

Engolio said he often gets calls from people he arrested in that area, many of whom tell him he changed their life for the better.

“I get that regularly … I still get it,” he said. “I had a reputation of being tough but fair, and everyone appreciated it – even the bad guys,” he said.

It does not mean work has gotten any easier for law enforcement.

He cites the negative perception of law enforcement as one of the biggest changes during his years in law enforcement.

“They’ve turned good guys into villains,” Engolio said.

The decision to retire stemmed from a desire to enjoy life while he could, although he’s not entirely sure he’s finished his law enforcement career.

“At first, I thought I was ready to retire,” he said. “As I got a little closer to this date, I got to thinking that maybe I’m too young.”

He hopes the public will remember him as fair, unapologetic, and honest about putting criminals in jail.

“I was never politically correct, and I never intend to be,” Engolio said. “I’ve been lucky, and good things have always gone down in the law enforcement.

“But I have a hard time watching my profession being villainized the way it is,” he said. “It’s sometimes tough to stay professional and not push back.”

Many who have been behind bars tell him he made a difference in their lives.

“I’ve heard that fifty or sixty times, at least,” Engolio said. “My wife is sometimes astonished, and she often said it must make me feel good.”

Engolio plans to continue to hunt, fish and train bird dogs.

He also plans to spend more time with his wife, Michele, and four children – Allan (a deputy sheriff), Marxie (a student in nursing school), Nico (also aa deputy) and Lilly (a medical tech).

“Aside from that, I want to rest, catch my breath recharge my batteries,” Engolio said.

Stassi, meanwhile, said it’s tough to see Engolio retire.

“To say that Stephen will be missed is an understatement,” he said. “He takes with him a wealth of knowledge and experience that only comes with longevity.  He leaves behind a legacy.

“Those that have been lucky enough to work alongside of him are better because of it.  He teaches by example and leads from the front,” Stassi said.  “He lives and breathes law enforcement, he bleeds blue.”