Criminal Justice
 

Shining a light: One month's NOPD disciplinary proceedings

A cop's failure to show up at court as cases reach trial jeopardizes criminal justice and is grounds for discipline.

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By Matt Davis, The Lens staff writer |

The discharge of a high-profile cop like Captain Jeff Winn makes headlines. But the reality of life in uniform as the New Orleans Police Department struggles toward reform is that cops are punished every day — usually for offenses less grave than the one that cost Winn his job.

Winn, captain of the NOPD’s Special Operations Unit, was fired Wednesday for failure to notify the department about details in the case of Henry Glover, who was shot by police and his corpse burned in Katrina’s immediate aftermath.

Seeking a window on police procedures, The Lens last October made a public records request for one month of formal disciplinary findings. Six months later, the NOPD complied by yielding the records for March 2011.

They show that the department that month disciplined 39 employees for a gamut of 42 infractions ranging from sleeping on the job to wrongful arrest. Two employees were fired; eight are appealing the disciplinary rulings against them.

No fewer than 13 cops were suspended in March for failing to appear in court for scheduled hearings, records show.

Most of those officers were suspended for just one day, but one officer, Chilton Lawrence, was suspended for 10 days after failing to show up for court a third time, records show.

Failure by officers to make scheduled court appearances, thus jeopardizing cases that can take criminals off the street, is just one of a variety of offenses revealed in documents The Lens has secured from a reluctant NOPD.

The two officers fired in March were Thomas McMasters and Beau Gast. In November 2009 they illegally arrested two women on prostitution and loitering charges, records show. Legitimate arrests would have required that the alleged prostitutes were convicted within the previous year, and that the arresting officers knew of specific instances of subsequent solicitation. McMasters and Gast were fired for breaking the department’s codes on adherence to law, moral conduct, truthfulness, neglect of duty, and filing false reports.

Officer James Terrell was suspended for two days after a citizen took photographs of him sleeping in his patrol car on St. Charles Avenue, records show. The city declined to release the photographs in response to a supplemental public records request, citing a statute that prevents the release of information related to criminal investigations. Terrell also refused to release the photographs. The city did not confirm or deny whether a criminal investigation is ongoing into Terrell’s alleged on-duty nap.

Terrell was working a paid detail at the time he was photographed, according to the note in his public integrity file. He told investigating officers that he may have closed his eyes because he “had a headache” at the time, but he said he did not recall whether he was actually sleeping.

Sleeping on the job is a persistent problem. The Lens earlier this month reported the disciplining of five police dispatchers for sleeping on the job at various times last year.

In the roundup of March disciplinary cases, Officer Jason Berger was suspended for 15 days for letting a prisoner escape from his patrol car, and Bryan Mulvey was suspended for four days for failing to follow up on a tip about a missing juvenile because he was nearing the end of his shift, records show.

The department reserved one of its harshest punishments for the alleged victim of a domestic violence attack.

Officer April Moses was suspended for 70 days for first alleging that her boyfriend beat her up but then retracting the statement when the district attorney’s office tried to press charges. Moses initially reported that her boyfriend punched, dragged, choked, kicked, and held her against her will for 30 minutes. She was found in breach of the department’s moral conduct, truthfulness, and professionalism rules as well as filing false public records.

Among other disciplinary findings in March:

Two officers received letters of reprimand for working paid details without proper authorization. Reserve Sergeant Cynthia Landry worked a paid detail at Entergy without filling out the department’s detail logbook or submitting forms, and Officer Andrew Whitaker worked a paid detail at Ninja Restaurant during 2009 and 2010 without proper approval, records show.

Mayor Mitch Landrieu suspended Eighth District Commander Ed Hosli earlier this month pending an investigation into Hosli’s role in a business scheme that paid officers working details to process traffic citations based on the city’s red-light cameras.

Ironically, it was Hosli who presided over disciplinary hearings and made disciplinary recommendations in nine of the 42 disciplinary cases in March.

Officer Michael Franklin received a letter of reprimand for arguing with a citizen in his private vehicle, identifying himself as a cop and then using an obscenity. Officer Carolyn Dalton was suspended for five days for shouting obscenities at a gas station employee while in uniform. The disciplinary letter noted that a child was present in the gas station to witness Officer Dalton’s behavior.

Officer Kevin Doucette was suspended for two days after failing to appear in court in Jefferson Parish on a reckless-driving charge, while Sergeant Luther Randall was given a three-day suspension after he was suspected of intoxication and handcuffed at an International House of Pancakes on the West Bank, records show.

Officer Tucker Guidry was given a letter of reprimand for failing to follow up on a citizen report about a quantity of stolen guns.

Tanesha Santemore, a police technician, was suspended for 11 days for brawling with a civilian. Santemore struck first and from the rear, the investigators determined. And her victim knew Santemore worked for the police department.

Ranking staff also were disciplined.

Sergeants Leo Peters and Kristi Bagneris each got a letter of reprimand for failing to complete investigations on time, records show. Sergeant James Young was given a two-day suspension for failing to request the presence of a female officer when allowing a female suspect to urinate in the street. Sergeant Neal Charles was given a letter of reprimand for refusing to cooperate with Jefferson Parish detectives after accusing three Jefferson Parish sheriff’s deputies of theft in an arrest report.

Gast, McMasters, Mulvey, Santemore and Terrell have appealed the disciplinary action against them, as have Ernest Crayton, Easterlynn McKendall and Elmaree Thomas.

The disciplined NOPD employees could not be reached for comment, and the department did not respond to a request for comment from each of the officers made through its public affairs office.

Department spokeswoman Remi Braden issued a statement:

“The Department takes officer misconduct very seriously,” Braden wrote. “Mayor Landrieu and Chief Serpas are reforming the department from top to bottom in partnership with the Department of Justice. The rules are the rules – and we encourage our officers to abide by them.”

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