THE CHILL REMAINS

   

Last week Punxsutawney Phil emerged from his burrow to witness his shadow being cast on the Pennsylvania snow. Six more weeks of winter was proclaimed across the land. But it isn’t the weather that has the greatest “chilling effect” in Lafayette, Louisiana. It is government overreach.

Yesterday, Corporal David Stanley of the Lafayette City Police Department appeared before the Lafayette Fire and Police Civil Service Board. He was appealing disciplinary action taken against him during the terms of Interim Police Chief Scott Morgan and Former Police Chief Thomas Glover. Morgan, barely recognizable in his appearance before the board, sporting long disheveled hair and an unkempt beard. Glover, who was also present awaiting an opportunity for his own grievance to be heard, did not testify in the Stanley matter.

The issue before the Board involved allegations of misconduct which stemmed from a series of two separate social media posts that appeared in the Police Association of Lafayette Facebook page. The first post, which occurred on or about May 12, 2020 was a video posted on the Louisiana Union of Police Associations Facebook page and was shared to the Police Association of Lafayette Facebook page. The second post, which occurred on or about May 18, 2020 involved information that was available in public record. It was undisputed that the actions of Stanley occurred while he was off-duty. It was also undisputed that Stanley was the Acadiana area regional representative for the Louisiana Union of Police Associations and the President of the Police Association of Lafayette at the time of the alleged infractions.

What was the origin of the complaint?

The initial witness at the hearing, Investigator Patrick Pattum, testified that the complaint was lodged by Interim Chief Morgan. However, the origin of the complaint goes much deeper. Pattum also testified the individuals who brought the complaint forward were Scott Police Chief Chad Leger, Youngsville Police Chief Rickey Boudreaux, Carencro Police Chief David Anderson and former Broussard Police Chief Brannon Decou. Morgan also testified that he drafted his complaint following a meeting that occurred between Mayor-President Josh Guillory and the four horsemen (Leger/Boudreaux/Anderson/Decou) in which they complained about the the Police Association of Lafayette post concerning HB 577. Thus it is clear from the testimony that the parties were acting in concert to silence the Police Association of Lafayette. That raises serious questions concerning the extent to which elected officials will go to silence their political opposition.

What was the nature of the legislation?

House Bill 577 was introduced by State Representative Jonathan Goudeau and co-sponsored by State Representative Beau Beaullieu and was later signed into law by Governor John Bell Edwards. It sought to change the method by which selections for vacancies and promotions could be made. Prior to the passage of the bill, the four horsemen were required to choose the individual within the department who was next in line based on eligibility: a list promulgated by the Civil Service Board. Now the Chiefs are permitted to selectively choose from any of three individuals with the highest departmental seniority.

The measure was an attack on the very nature of the Civil Service system which seeks to ensure fairness and eliminate bias, discrimination, and “good ole’ boy” selections. The measure was also a “carve out” of special privileges for the agencies of the four horsemen as it did not apply to any other agencies in the entire state.

Why was this a concern of the Police Association of Lafayette?

According to the testimony, there was concern about how far reaching the bill would be and whether it would impact the Civil Service system in Lafayette and other agencies, such as East Baton Rouge. The bill faced opposition from not only Police Associations and Unions, but also organizations that represented firemen. Their consternation was likely prompted by the fear that if this can occur in the police civil service system, it can easily be replicated in the fire civil service system.

The matter was so important that Interim Chief Morgan sent a delegation of police representatives to the State Capital building to watch the proceedings closely. The testimony reflected that the Chief’s delegates (Corporal Stanley, Corporal Rummel, and current Acting Chief of Police Monte Potier) took departmental vehicles to Baton Rouge while on-duty and donning in police attire.

Matter of Public Concern?

The second social media post which came under scrutiny during the hearing involved a narcotics arrest featured the booking photograph of the subject (obtained from the public domain) and a synopsis of the details concerning the arrest (available in the public record). Again, there was no testimony presented which refuted these facts.

Stanley testified to his reliance on a legal opinion issued by former City Attorney and now Assistant LCG attorney Paul Escott who pointed out: “… generally speaking neither LCG or LPD have any authority to restrict, limit, or discipline any law enforcement employee who speaks out on a matter of public concern… Union activity is protected at both the state and federal level.” The purpose of that legal opinion, issued by Escott, was in response to “concerns expressed” by Jason Boudreaux, Attorney for Sheriff Mark Garber, about the protected activities of the Police Association of Lafayette. The nature of the post in question concerned an expenditure made by Sheriff Garber to which Escott indicated “the expenditure of public funds is a matter of public record” and it was “irrelevant” as to how the information was obtained.

Stanley also testified about the motivation of the post in question and others indicating a desire to keep the public informed of work being performed by law enforcement agencies. Posts of the Police Association of Lafayette seem to rapidly increase following the 2017 slaying of Lafayette Police Department Officer Michael Middlebrook before dropping off drastically following the Stanley investigation.

The Big Chill

In fact, the Police Association of Lafayette website (www.PAL905.org) contains only one post so far this year, zero post for 2021 and several post in 2020. Interestingly enough, the last post of 2020 features an article about a drug related arrest, very similar to May 18, 2020 post which resulted in the Stanley investigation. It is unknown at this time whether any investigation has been conducted into the release of information contained in this post. A previous inquiry by Citizens for a New Louisiana did reveal that following this post there was a reduction in the amount oof information being released to the public. That was released in an earlier article: Why the Change?

Why are the public being denied records which contain sufficient enough detail and specificity as to provide the average person with the necessary facts by which to make informed decisions concerning their safety and security? Why are members of the Police Association of Lafayette being targeted by multiple elected officials for informing us on matters of public concern?

In the end, the Civil Service Board determined that Stanley (acting as a member of the Police Association of Lafayette) was well within his rights to oppose the legislation and the LCG did not act in good faith and for cause in disciplining him. However, as it pertains to Stanley posting information contained in the public records regarding the arrest of a drug offender, the Board determined that LCG did act in good faith and for cause in disciplining him, upholding a reduced suspension. The effect of disciplining officers who are proactive in keeping the public aware of the dangers in community is certain to have a chilling effect on others who wish to speak out on any matters of public concern. But if Louisiana weather is any indicator of what is to come, the chill won’t last for long and the political climate will be heating up again!

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