By Matt Davis, The Lens staff writer |
An Orleans Parish Sheriff’s Office deputy who was fired recently after admitting he punched his girlfriend in the face had other brushes with the law before he was hired less than a year ago, according to records and interviews with an alleged statutory rape victim’s mother.
It’s unclear whether Sheriff Marlin Gusman knew the extent of the Baton Rouge rape accusation involving Stephen Thomas before Thomas was promoted to full deputy in July 2010. The mother of the girl – who was 14 when she had Thomas’ child – said she spoke with Gusman about the incident when Thomas was still a recruit, at least eight months before his promotion.
Through a spokesman, Gusman acknowledged the conversation with the mother. The sheriff encouraged her to pursue the matter with Baton Rouge police, where the alleged rape took place, spokesman Marc Ehrhardt said.
The mother had already done just that months earlier, a Baton Rouge Police spokesman said, but the daughter declined to press charges. Without a complainant, they dropped the matter, Cpl. L’Jean Mckneely said Tuesday.
Despite the conversation Gusman had with the mother, Ehrhardt said it’s not the Sheriff’s Office’s role to investigate rape allegations from Baton Rouge.
That Thomas is the father of the now-4-year-old is barely in question. The girl’s mother, Adele Charles, provided The Lens with a copy of a paternity test from early last year, saying he was the father with 99.99 percent certainty.
The state’s Office of Child and Family Services also shows that Thomas is responsible for making child support payments to Charles, who is the child’s custodian. Records show that as of May 17, Thomas was $9,600 behind on his payments.
Ehrhardt said the Sheriff’s Office was never asked by the state to garnishee Thomas’ paycheck to satisfy his debt, though they certainly would have complied with such a legal order.
The alleged rape was considered closed by the Baton Rouge police when the Sheriff’s Office ran a background check on Stephen Thomas for outstanding warrants and the like. That review came up empty in October 2009, save for a minor traffic ticket, which Thomas then paid, according to records provided by Ehrhardt.
Ehrhardt said any unresolved matter would have prevented Thomas’ promotion.
Gusman’s office was fully aware of a more recent incident – a 2009 allegation that he and another ex-girlfriend, who is also a deputy, were accused of beating the mother of his child – because the Sheriff’s Office helped investigate the incident. However, those charges were eventually dropped in June 2010, and Gusman promoted Thomas the next month.
Thomas was not suspended because of those 2009 accusations because he was issued a summons, rather than being arrested, Ehrhardt said.
Despite a public-records request from The Lens, Ehrhardt did not provide a copy of the Sheriff’s Office operations manual in the legally allotted time. Presumably, the manual spells out the differing protocols for an employee being sent to court with a summons, as opposed to those who are arrested.
The deputy’s tenure ended in the past month after he was arrested in March on the latest battery charges. Gusman sustained the office’s internal disciplinary charges and fired Thomas for violations of the sheriff’s policies on “professionalism” and “adherence to law,” documents show.
In that incident, Thomas is accused of punching his girlfriend in the face and causing her to break her ankle on March 23. The pair scuffled after she wouldn’t tell Thomas the details of her conversation with the Sheriff’s Office internal-affairs investigators. They were investigating a complaint from Thomas that others were spreading rumors about him having sexual intercourse with a male ex-inmate, records show.
After interviewing the woman in the emergency room, sheriff’s officials accompanied New Orleans police officers to the jail, where Thomas was on duty, and arrested him.
He was immediately suspended without pay, his deputy’s commission was revoked and his weapon confiscated, records show. An internal hearing on April 24 resulted in a recommendation of termination.
Thomas is scheduled to appear in court on June 24 on charges related to that incident.
Thomas was unreachable for comment. The victim in the 2009 incident, the mother of Thomas’ child, declined comment. Likewise, the woman whom Thomas admitted to punching – who is also a Sheriff’s Office deputy – declined to comment.
During the internal affairs investigation, she told officers that she didn’t want to say anything that might get Thomas fired, records show.
The records also show that Thomas, who is 6-foot-1, 175 pounds, said he punched her first because he thought she would try to hit him.