Criminal Justice
 

Sheriff, state Treasury Department strike deal regarding disputed deputy pay

The Orleans Parish Sheriff’s Office reached a tentative deal in its lawsuit against the Louisiana Treasury Department over a state-funded bonus pay program, with the office agreeing to suspend its claim for nearly $40,000 that the state withheld from Orleans deputies. The agreement, however, remains unfulfilled because the Sheriff’s Office is yet to provide the state with records proving the deputies are eligible for the pay.

The Sheriff’s Office filed the suit last month after the department refused to pay $38,000 in Deputy Sheriffs’ Supplemental Pay — a state program worth as much as $500 per deputy per month — to 38 deputies following a Legislative Auditor’s report that found the deputies were likely ineligible for the pay.

In a press release last week, Sheriff Marlin Gusman’s office claimed a victory in the lawsuit, which was filed in the 19th Judicial District Court in Baton Rouge. The announcement said the department “dropped its opposition” after the Sheriff’s Office presented additional information.

That new information, according to a statement from Treasurer John Kennedy last week, was detailed job descriptions for the deputies in question. According to Gusman lawyer James Williams, the parties worked out the deal in private after Judge Janice Clark recessed a hearing. Gusman’s side presumably provided the descriptions verbally during the negotiation.

“Today’s victory proves that my office has fully complied with the laws governing our deputies’ entitlement to State Supplemental Pay. We will continue to do so moving forward,” Gusman is quoted as saying in a Tuesday news release.

In fact, The Lens has learned that Gusman has yet to achieve that victory.

Asked last week if the Treasury Department now believes the deputies are eligible for the pay, department spokeswoman Michelle Millhollon responded, “We are in the process of making that determination.”

But as of Monday, nearly a week after Gusman issued his announcement, Gusman hasn’t handed over the written job descriptions necessary for that process to move forward, a Treasury official confirmed in a response to a public-records request. The Sheriff’s Office did not respond to repeated requests for comment on this story.

The Sheriff’s Office has historically had some trouble providing the state with adequate details on how its employees fill their workdays.

The Lens began investigating Gusman’s use of state supplemental pay in 2014, after receiving a tip from former deputy Bryan Collins. Collins identified 51 employees who were receiving the pay even though, he alleged, they did not appear to be eligible. Under state law, only deputies involved in law enforcement work are qualified. Collins’ list included employees identified as kitchen staff, high-paid administrative workers and maintenance staff.

Gusman submitted monthly reports to the state attesting to the employees’ eligibility for the pay, but he consistently used the same vague job description for each: “care, custody and control of inmates,” even though the state requested a detailed breakdown of duties.

In February, Gusman provided more detailed duty descriptions for his staff to the federal judge overseeing the jail’s consent decree. Using those records and state supplemental pay reports, The Lens found 37 deputies who were receiving the bonus even though their jobs appeared to have little to do with law enforcement.

Then in April, the Louisiana Legislative Auditor released a report that found that between 2011 and 2014, the Sheriff’s Office may have misused more than $1 million in state funds by giving the pay to 56 deputies who appeared to be unqualified. Thirty-eight of them still work for the Sheriff’s Office. According to a court filing, the Legislative Auditor informed the Department of Treasury of its findings two months prior, in early February, the same month the department started withholding the pay.

“We cannot violate state law. We cannot pay those employees unless a judge tells us otherwise,” Kennedy said in a statement after Gusman filed suit last month.

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