NOPD vehicles parked outside of an old city jail building. (Michael Isaac Stein/The Lens)

A New Orleans police officers’ association says the New Orleans Police Department’s Public Integrity Bureau — which is tasked with investigating and disciplining officer misconduct — is playing politics with its duties, ignoring and even covering up allegations of serious misconduct involving favored officers, while punishing others for minor, sometimes unsubstantiated, infractions.

The allegations are included in a petition filed by the Police Association of New Orleans and its president, Capt. Michael Glasser, to the city’s Civil Service Commission requesting an investigation into the PIB and a hearing on the complaints.  The petition argues that PIB investigations and disciplinary decisions have to do with who the officer is, their rank, and their political ties, rather than the evidence against them. This results in a “corrupted and disparate disciplinary system,” the letter reads. 

“It is not uncommon for PIB [personnel], high ranking supervisors, and other favored officers to escape investigation and discipline entirely by the manipulation of or ignoring of NOPD policy,” the petition reads. “In doing so, the rank and file officers who are subjected to, and witness such disparate treatment, understandably question the integrity of PIB investigations and the entire system of discipline. Such a situation does not bode well for a respected and effective disciplinary system.” 

The petition also takes issue with a list compiled by the NOPD and provided to District Attorney Jason Williams’ office consisting of officers who may have credibility issues — known as a Brady or Giglio list — based on past disciplinary cases investigated by PIB. Williams’ office has said it will use the list to inform defense attorney’s when an officer involved in a case is on the list, and would consider on a case by case basis whether or not those officers would be allowed to testify in court.

When the list was publicly released earlier this year, PANO said it included officers who were, in fact, cleared of misconduct. 

“Despite the fact that the PIB was the sole entity who investigated, stored, maintained, and controlled all of the required data to compile such a list, and despite the fact that such an important list would surely have been subjected to great scrutiny and review to ensure accuracy,  numerous officers were wrongly included in the list,” the petition reads.

NOPD Superintendent Shaun Ferguson has said that the department will be conducting a review of the list, but the status of that review is unclear.  A spokesperson for NOPD, Gary Scheets, declined to comment on the petition filed by PANO or provide any updates on their Brady list review. 

“We don’t have anything additional to say at this time,” he said in an email.

Eric Hessler, the attorney for PANO who filed the petition on behalf of PANO and Glasser, told The Lens in a Thursday interview that the association has taken issue with PIB investigations for years. He said that while the organization had no problem with their members being investigated, as long as those investigations are fair, based on evidence, and not politically motivated.  Rank and file officers are not convinced that is currently the case, he said. 

“There is a saying within the NOPD that their investigations are a conclusion in search of evidence,” Hessler said. “They pick and choose which evidence they’ll use to come to the desired finding. And unfortunately, that finding might be based on who you are, and certainly not what you did. And that’s troubling.”

In one instance, the petition alleges that a lieutenant working in PIB fabricated a potentially damaging quote from a citizen as they were being arrested, and included it in an 2020 PIB investigative file against an officer. The quote from the citizen was, “You are on my neck; I can’t breathe!”

The PIB lieutenant himself was investigated by PIB over the inclusion of the quote. According to the investigators disciplinary recommendation, the investigation confirmed that in fact the “quote was never made by the arrested subject.” It also notes that when confronted with the false quote, the lieutenant “immediately apologized for the error.” But still, the investigator found that the complaint against the lieutenant was “unfounded,” and the lieutenant was not disciplined. 

The officer who was the subject of the original complaint received a 80 day suspension. Full details of the allegations against the officer are unclear. The Lens requested the full PIB files from the NOPD on Thursday for both the officer and the lieutenant, but they were not made available by publication time. 

The petition calls the incident a “blatant cover-up of serious wrong doing” that was “orchestrated by supervisory and command staff at the highest levels of the NOPD, in order to evade any disciplinary action upon a high-ranking member of PIB.”

“PANO alleges that this type of incompetent investigation, ignoring or omitting material evidence and dispartate treatment is rampant among NOPD investigations,” the petition reads. “This nefarious activity seems most prevalent when the accused holds rank or political ties within the department.”

Hessler said that there have been around a dozen complaints that have been filed by him or PANO members against NOPD supervisors that haven’t gone anywhere. 

According to the petition, complaints against the superintendent or deputy superintendents are investigated by the Office of Inspector General. But witnesses have never been contacted in relation to those “many complaints” nor have they “been advised of the status of any such investigation,” according to the petition. 

The Office of the Inspector General did not respond to requests for comment or provide information on how many complaints it has received regarding NOPD personnel. 

“It has been previously demonstrated that neither the NOPD nor the OIG have any interest in meaningfully addressing these issues,” the petition reads. 

Nicholas Chrastil

Nicholas Chrastil covers criminal justice for The Lens. As a freelancer, his work has appeared in Slate, Undark, Mother Jones, and the Atavist, among other outlets. Chrastil has a master's degree in mass...