By Robert Burns
A recent Advocate article revealed that an LSP member of Gov. Jindal’s family-security team, Sgt. Damiem Dyson, Sr., was arrested for suspicion of drunk driving. Dyson rear-ended a vehicle in front of him, causing it to crash into several trees but, thankfully, the driver of the vehicle was not injured. Meanwhile, Dyson continued on to the next exit, where he pulled over and authorities apprehended him. He registered 0.175% blood-alcohol content, which is more than twice the legal limit for drunk driving in Louisiana. He was apprehended, placed in jail, placed on paid administrative leave, and an investigation by the Internal Affairs Division of LSP ensued.
Col. Edmonson weighed in on the incident: “As law enforcement professionals, we have not only legal responsibilities but also high standards of integrity that must be upheld at all times while serving the citizens of Louisiana,” he said. “Following a thorough criminal and administrative investigation, the department will review all findings in this matter and take swift steps to ensure an impartial and appropriate course of action.”
That sounds proactive and procedurally prudent until we take a peek at Edmonson’s own driving habits at LSP. In 1983, Edmonson was issued a letter of reprimand for an overly-aggressive effort to assist Denham Springs Police during which he crossed the medium and struck a light pole. Then-LSP Col. J. C. Willie said, “I recommend that in the future you take all precaution in the operation of your unit to avoid accidents of this kind.” Granted, Edmonson was a young trooper at the time, and that incident may well be attributed to an overly-zealous desire to protect the safety of Louisiana citizens. LouisianaVoice readers may recall that when Bobby Jindal was sworn in as governor in January of 2008, he proclaimed that a new day in Louisiana governmental transparency had arrived. Further, he repeatedly invoked the refrain, “We have zero tolerance for corruption.” Now, as we approach the end of Jindal’s eight-year tenure as Louisiana’s absentee chief executive, the jury has clearly returned with the verdict that his initial pronouncements were all nothing more than good old garden variety horse manure.
Edmonson managed to avoid further disciplinary action until 1988. That was the year of a Papal visit to New Orleans. Although Edmonson was accused of other wrongdoing which was overturned on appeal, Edmonson was suspended for 10 days for working 13 hours of security detail on that visit without obtaining proper approval and for failure to evidence the security detail having been worked by submitting a copy of his check for payment as well as another document required by LSP protocol.
Three years later, in 1991, he received another letter of reprimand for careless vehicle operation. While attempting to park, Edmonson apparently was distracted by a horn being blown by a vehicle behind him. When he looked to his rear, he struck the left front bumper of the parked vehicle. Edmonson was deemed “at fault” and admonished to “exercise care and caution in the operation of your unit to avoid accidents of this kind.”
Then, in 1994, Edmonson was suspended for 40 hours due to “insufficient attentiveness for the demands of the situation.” At 1:25 a.m. on April 1, 1994, Edmonson “left the Eastbound lane of I-12,” after which he “collided with a concrete piling of an overpass.” The report includes hand-written instructions for an official named Eddie to “verify LWOP” (leave without pay). The report indicates that Edmonson “suffered serious injuries” and that the vehicle “was extensively damaged to the point that it is considered a total loss.” The report also indicates that driving at high speeds on an interstate requires “constant vigilance” and further relays, “It is apparent from your statement that you were aware that your degree of attentiveness was insufficient for the demands required by the situation.” The report then says that, as an LSP trooper, Edmonson should have recognized “your condition” and “taken the initiative to recommit yourself to your driving obligations.” LSP is “extremely fortunate that you were not more seriously injured and perhaps even more fortunate that innocent persons were not involved,” the report concluded
The retired LSP trooper who’d initiated the contact to suggest that Edmonson’s personnel file be examined said of the wording of the reprimand, “That’s a flowery way for the department to say he was drunk.” He also said he and several of his colleagues had been lied to. He said, “We were told that Edmonson was a passenger in the vehicle and another trooper was driving. This is the first I’ve heard of Edmonson being the one doing the driving.” A second law enforcement officer indicated that while he knew Edmonson was the driver, there was a concerted effort on the part of LSP to “cover the whole incident up.” The retired trooper source also said, “Our jaws just dropped when we learned Gov. Jindal was appointing Edmonson as LSP Colonel.”
Edmonson was suspended for another 16 hours. This suspension again resulted from careless operation of his vehicle. It seems that while waiting at a drive-thru teller line at Whitney Bank on Government Street—with an unauthorized passenger in his LSP vehicle (Edmonson’s 12-year-old son)—at 1:30 p.m. on August 18, 1995, Edmonson “reached down to retrieve a check from the front seat.” When he did so, his foot slipped off the brake pedal, thus resulting in the vehicle moving forward. In attempting to stop, Edmonson apparently went to apply the brake, but instead at least partially hit the accelerator and smashed into the vehicle in front of him. Both passengers in the vehicle Edmonson hit complained of minor injuries.
Tyler Bridges, in his excellent book Bad Bet on the Bayou, noted that state police superintendent is one of the most important appointments a Louisiana governor makes. Bridges describes the position as historically an “enforcement arm” of any Louisiana governor’s policies and agenda.
Jindal appointed Mike Edmonson as his LSP Colonel and for more than six years, most people had little reason to question Edmonson’s integrity or the way he operated his department. That all changed, however when news of the “Edmonson Amendment” broke on July 11. The stealth amendment attempted to cram through a $55,000 per year boost to Edmonson’s retirement pension.
Before the episode was fully rectified (via a lawsuit filed by Sen. Dan Claitor to have the law declared unconstitutional), considerable collateral fallout transpired. The fallout arose from the fact that, upon the LouisianaVoice post, numerous retired LSP troopers began providing insight into Edmonson’s managerial style.
As a result, considerable evidence of payroll cronyism and nepotism within LSP became known. C. B. Forgotston revealed the existence of a 49-5 club of retired LSP troopers deemed to be in the “Edmonson clique” who were rehired at annual salaries of $49,500 each (though payroll records reveal no one making that precise salary) to perform menial tasks like making coffee, running errands for the purchase of donuts for the “breakfast crew,” etc. Now as most Louisiana Voice readers have just read in the news, Jindal is about to be forced to make $171 million in mid-year budget cuts due to revenue shortfalls. The cuts are necessary notwithstanding Jindal’s phantom “surplus” found by Kristy Nichols despite contradictory claims by folks like State Treasurer John Kennedy. Isn’t it a tad bit galling to know $171 million in cuts is being required, yet the state has plenty of money to rehire troopers whose only tasks are to simply hang around the office?
Perhaps Edmonson’s own perfection of the art of deception and misdirection explains why he has endured—and very nearly prospered monetarily—while others who at least seemed to possess the attributes Jindal espoused were told to take a hike. At any rate, as we see the upcoming commercials and warnings from LSP to please drive safely during the upcoming holiday season, let’s hope that they’re instilling the same friendly warnings to their own ranks, including at the highest level.