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There was a program on ABC-TV last week that recognized the achievements of Black Americans. For the most part, it was a tribute to musicians like James Brown, Michael Jackson, et al.

President and First Lady Obama were in attendance at the event at the Lincoln Center in Washington and the show was quite entertaining, especially the part of the show featuring Brown.

But then actor Tom Hanks came onstage and recounted how, after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, thousands of Black men, like their white counterparts, enlisted in the armed forces to help defend their homeland. For the most part, Hanks correctly pointed out, the Blacks were relegated to the role of cooks, truck drivers “and even grave diggers.”

But then, President Franklin Roosevelt signed an executive order prohibiting discrimination against Blacks in the military and later, a group of Blacks were assigned to a special flight school for Black aviators at Tuskeegee Institute in Tuskeegee, Alabama. Thus was born the Red Tail Squadron which distinguished itself as bomber escorts. Incredible as it sounds, the Red Tails, so-named for the distinguishing red circles painted on the rudders of their P-51 Mustangs, had only seven bombers shot down of the 179 bombing escort missions flown, a number well below average.

Then Hanks, almost overcome, announced that the seven surviving members were in attendance and the crowd, as one, rose to its feet in one of the more memorable displays of raw emotion as the seven, one in a wheelchair and another on a walker, were brought onstage. http://atlantablackstar.com/2017/01/13/tuskegee-airmen-tribute-takingthestage-everyone-tears/ to America the Beautiful performed by a military choir as applause thundered and tears flowed freely.

Appropriately, Obama snapped off a salute to the airman and Retired Gen. Colin Powell strode onstage to personally salute them as a group and to embrace each one individually.

Sadly, in November, between the time of the show’s taping in September and its airing last week, the oldest of the seven, Willie Rogers, 101, died.

The point of this is a story that was related to me in West Monroe last night after I recounted the Lincoln Center tribute.

My cousin was active in the promotion of the former Selman Field Historical Association in Monroe and she told me about a World War II Selman Field navigator who managed to get his bomber pilot lost on his very first flight after training.

Literally thrown into combat immediately after flight school, he told of how he simply froze up and soon realized he had no idea of his coordinates as the pilot, frantically requested information from the navigator as they flew over North Africa. Finally, unable to rely on his navigator, the pilot put out an SOS.

There was immediate radio response and the pilot was directed to look for certain landmarks so that his location could be pinpointed. The strategy worked and the plane was eventually guided to a safe landing.

The plane was immediately surrounded by ambulance personnel and airmen who greeted the bomber crew with questions like “what battle were you in,” “how many wounded,” and other relevant question as they passed out ice cold beer to the bomber’s crew, ice being a rare delicacy in North Africa during the war.

Adding to the embarrassed navigator’s humiliation over getting his pilot lost, was the sudden realization that they were looking into the anxious faces of members of the legendary Tuskeegee Red Tails.

One of the bomber crew members replied, “Oh no, no casualties. We were just lost.”

“Give us back our beer,” came the disgusted response. As they did so, the Red Tails laughingly said they were joking and everyone managed a good chuckle at the situation that, with timely help from the Red Tails, turned out well for the rookie navigator and his fellow crewmen.

It was Memorial Day weekend in Baton Rouge last year, the weekend of the BAYOU COUNTRY SUPERFEST that had country music fans flocking to LSU’s Tiger Stadium. LSU subsequently cancelled its contract with promoters and this year’s event will take place in the Louisiana Superdome in New Orleans.

But this story isn’t about Bayou Country Superfest.

It was several hours after the final performance of one night of the three-day event, around 3 a.m., in fact, that a black SUV was pulled over by a Baton Rouge police officer at the corner of Perkins and Acadian, only a few blocks south of I-10.

The officer, a member of the city’s DWI Strike Force, suspected the driver of driving while impaired, perhaps even intoxicated. In the SUV was a woman, a blonde. She was not the driver’s wife; she’s a brunette.

The driver, violating all protocol, exited his SUV and started toward the officer who, alarmed, is said to have pulled his weapon just before recognizing the driver as a high-ranking member of the governor’s administration.

Instead of escalating, as the situation could easily have done, the driver was inexplicably allowed to proceed on to his destination, driving that black SUV. He was not arrested, issued a citation or even asked to submit to a field sobriety test and the matter was quickly hushed up. Even the city officer, when asked about the incident, denied it ever happened. But later, when asked about the incident by a fellow officer, rather than deny it occurred, said instead, “I can’t talk about that.”

Yet the stories continue to persist nearly nine full months after the stop that the officer denies ever took place. LouisianaVoice was even given the officer’s name by no fewer than eight different, independent sources. At least when Bobby Jindal’s Commissioner of Administration Paul Rainwater was pulled over for DWI, there was no attempt to keep the arrest quiet and he paid his fines and court costs for the offense. The only thing that raised eyebrows was when State Police Superintendent Mike Edmonson showed up and gave him a ride home—a courtesy no ordinary citizen sans political connections would likely be accorded.

Who made the decision to allow the driver to go on his way? It’s unlikely the officer would have assumed the responsibility for such a decision fraught with all kinds of downsides on his own. That would mean there had to be an order from up the chain of command within the Baton Rouge Police Department. The question then, is at what level of the command was the decision made, mid-level or from the very top?

Baton Rouge Police Chief Carl Dabadie is probably on his way out. At least that’s the indication given by former State Sen. Sharon Weston Broome who was recently elect Baton Rouge’s new Mayor-President and inaugurated on Jan. 2, though Dabadie appears to be fighting to keep his job.

This is not to say Dabadie was ever even aware of the stop but if (and of course, at this stage, that’s a very speculative if)…if he is the one who put the kibosh on the stop and potential arrest of the state official, both men need to go. Immediately.

If he had any records of the pullover expunged from the police log, he could be found guilty of injuring public records under Louisiana R.S. 14:132 and he conceivably could face imprisonment. At any rate, if any records of the stop were destroyed on his watch, he must be held accountable for destruction of public records.

If records were never tampered with, then somewhere there is a paper trail that still exists, perhaps by now buried somewhere in the bowels of the BRPD.

LouisianaVoice is continuing to investigate the matter. We’ll let you know if anything develops. If not, the story probably will evaporate as did the ghost stop of a black SUV at 3 a.m. during the 2016 Bayou Superfest.

“You need to talk to Lenore Feeney. She’s the attorney in the red jacket.”

—State Police Commission Chairman T.J. Doss, dodging reporters following the ouster of LSPC Executive Director Cathy Derbonne.

“I’m not been authorized to make a comment.”

—Lenore Feeney in the red jacket, to reporters moments later.

 

“Please tell me your intentions as to the re-appointment of Mike Edmonson.”

—Tom Aswell, LouisianaVoice Publisher, in email to State Rep. John Bel Edwards at 10:27 a.m. on Oct. 27, 2015, as he headed into runoff with David Vitter in 2015 general election for governor.

“I don’t intend one way or the other.”

—Email response of John Bel Edwards to Aswell at 12:50 p.m. on Oct. 27.

Mike Edmonson got his way but Louisiana State Police Commission (LSPC) Executive Director Cathy Derbonne did not give him the satisfaction of having his puppet commission fire her.

She quit. But she said she did so under duress.

The commission plowed through the first three items on the agenda before Chairman T.J. Doss, the state police representative on the board, abruptly announced there would be a 30-minute recess in proceedings.

There was probably a good reason for the recess. During almost the entirety of testimony of retired State Trooper Leon “Bucky” Millet, who is one of the commission’s harshest critics, Doss was busy texting someone (we suspect it may have been Edmonson)

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He continued texting during part of the recess but different commissioners kept caucusing in corners, offices and around the coffee pot but were careful to keep their meetings down to three members or fewer. If four had met anywhere in the room, there would have been a quorum and LouisianaVoice would have politely asked to sit in. Instead, whenever a fourth entered the discussion, someone else would leave.

Just to be on the safe side, LouisianaVoice submitted a formal, written public records request for the content of all of Doss’s texts sent and received during Thursday’s meeting. On the outside chance he was texting commission attorney Lenore Feeney, we are prepared to demand proof of that by having LSPC provide us with the “To” and “From” portions of the texts with the actual messages redacted. All other messages are to be provided intact.

Millet did get Doss’s undivided attention at one point when he alluded to a report that Doss had addressed a meeting of the Louisiana State Troopers Association at which he was quoted as saying his goal was to be elected chairman of the commission and to “get rid of the executive director.” Doss, of course, denied saying that.

Upon re-convening, contract attorney Taylor Townsend read Derbonne’s resignation letter and the commission then voted on whether or not to accept the resignation (I always thought when one quit, it was his or her decision). Member Calvin Braxton and Jared J Caruso-Riecke voted no on accepting her resignation letter.

Voting to accept were members Doss, Monica Manzella, Eulis Simien, Jr., and Donald Breaux.

Caruso-Riecke, it should be noted, contributed $3,500 to John Bel Edwards and $2,000 to his brother, Tangipahoa Parish Sheriff Daniel Edwards. Daniel Edwards is a member of the Louisiana Sheriffs’ Association which endorsed John Bel Edwards for governor and once elected, John Bel Edwards re-appointed Edmonson as State Police Superintendent as a condition of the sheriffs’ association’s endorsement, proving that life—political life, at least—is indeed a circle.

LouisianaVoice attempted to ask Caruso-Riecke why he voted not to accept Derbonne’s resignation and he refused to comment, choosing instead to take the opportunity to chastise LouisianaVoice for yesterday’s post that said Edmonson OWNED HIM.

Well, quite frankly, we didn’t see anything during Thursday’s meeting that would change our mind.

Why is that?

Simply because LouisianaVoice happened to learn it was Doss and Caruso-Riecke who placed the two items on the LSPC agenda that were to have dealt with Derbonne’s “professional competence” and whether she would be continued or terminated.

So, basically, Caruso-Riecke, aware that the four votes needed to end Derbonne’s eight years as executive director were locked in, he could vote “no” and come off as the nice guy by taking the high road, confident that it was a done deal.

Now if he just hadn’t been one of those who prepared the agenda and handed it to Derbonne for her signature….

The obvious question is what trigger was the commission going to pull to terminate Derbonne? Conspicuously displayed behind commissioners was a screen with a paused video of proceedings of the Joint Legislative Committee on the Budget at which Derbonne testified last year. The video was never shown because Derbonne resigned but what it would have shown was legislators asking her who approved the LSPA’s budget and she inadvertently replied, “The Commission.” The commission budget is actually approved by the commission before being sent to the legislature for final approval and it was that gaffe members were going to use to hang her.

Well, that brings up an obvious question: Back around October, State Police Superintendent Mike Edmonson appeared before the commission to ask that a new position of lieutenant colonel be created to oversee finances for State Police. He assured commission members that (a) the position was not to be created for any specific individual and that there would be no additional expenses for the position. Before anyone could say cut and dried, Jason Starnes was promoted into the position and promptly given a $25,000 raise.

Edmonson lied and he did so deliberately. Will he be fired as well?

Edmonson, back in 2014, engineered the insertion of an AMENDMENT to an otherwise benign bill in the closing minutes of the legislature that would have given him an additional $55,000 per year in retirement income—illegally, because Edmonson had locked his retirement in years before when he entered the state’s DROP Program, which froze retirement income at his rank at that time. A lawsuit by State Sen. Dan Claitor killed the raise. Was he fired for that? Check that box No.

JOHN BEL EDWARDS, a state representative at the time, said he would seek a “full investigation” of the furtive attempt to approve the raise. Instead, he reappointed Edmonson to head Louisiana State Police (LSP).

When a Troop D State Trooper was found to be doctor-shopping in order to stockpile prescription narcotics, which he was taking while on duty, Edmonson’s solution was to first promote him to Troop D Commander and later, when the incident became public, to make a LATERAL TRANSFER.

When a State Trooper was found to have had sex with a woman in his patrol unit, he was SUSPENDED for 36 hours and reduced in pay for 18 pay periods but was allowed to work overtime to make up the reduction in pay.

When a married State Trooper escorted an underage woman into a Vicksburg, Mississippi CASINO floor to play slot machines and blackjack, he was busted and attempted unsuccessfully to use his position as a trooper to negotiate his way out of a fine. Edmonson promoted him to Troop F Commander.

When Department of Public Safety (DPS) Deputy Undersecretary JILL BOUDREAUX was allowed to take an early retirement buyout incentive and cash in her leave time and then return to work the next day—with a promotion to Undersecretary, Edmonson allowed her to keep $59,000 in buyout and annual leave payments—and her job—despite instructions from the Division of Administration for her to repay the money.

Edmonson sat on a HARASSMENT complaint on a Troop D State Trooper for more than a year.

Louisiana State Troopers’ Association Executive Director David Young kept his job after it was revealed that he laundered state troopers’ funds through his personal bank account in order to make substantial—and illegal—campaign donations, including $10,000 each to Bobby Jindal and Edwards. A political crony of Gov. Edwards was hired to torpedo the investigation—and did just that.

And when a handful of retirees, members of LSTA, complained about the contributions, they were politely booted out of the association. You don’t cross Edmonson’s boys and not pay a price.

Through all these disruptive incidents, Edmonson sailed right along, never receiving any disciplinary action. He will say he has no control over the LSTA, but that organization’s members don’t go to the bathroom without a hall pass from Edmonson.

He skates when he lies about how the promotion of Jason Starnes would cost no additional money but Derbonne is offered up for sacrifice when she inadvertently says the commission approves her budget.

Capping off the bizarre events on Thursday, reporters attempted in vain to get any member or either of the two commission attorneys—Taylor Townsend and Lenore Feeney—to say something, anything, about the meeting and Derbonne’s resignation. Each one, Doss, Braxton, Caruso-Riecke, Breaux, Manzella, Simien, Townsend and Feeney, seemed to have somewhere to go in one helluva hurry. Everyone was scurrying around like a bunch of rats in a burning meth lab.

Townsend, all but sprinting from the room, was pursued by a reporter who asked, “What did you guys talk about during the break?”

Townsend’s RESPONSE, made over his right shoulder as he exited the room was, “You don’t want to get into that.”

Well….yeah, we do.

The most humorous—and frustrating—exchange took place when reporters followed Doss as he entered a private room with Maj. Durell Williams, who is over Louisiana State Police Internal Affairs.

Doss, just before entering the room, turned and faced reporters who asked for a more detailed explanation of events. He referred reporters to Feeney, “the attorney in the red jacket,” saying that she could address their questions.

But when FEENEY was confronted, she rushed past reporters, saying, “I’m not been authorized to make a comment.” It was a classic game of bureaucratic ping pong with reporters serving as the little plastic ball.

So there you have it, folks. The wagons have been circled; Starnes, with no accounting experience, has been put in charge of LSP finances; Edmonson has consolidated his base by eliminating another potential critic and gaining complete control of the LSPC; the Sheriffs’ Association is happy as a pig in the sunshine, and Derbonne has been sacrificed at the Altar of Deniability.

And to think, Edmonson gets away with all the above—and more—mismanagement but when I, as a five-year-old, threw a candy wrapper out of my grandfather’s truck window, I felt a pop on the back of my head and I could see Jesus at the end of a long tunnel, waving me to the light.

But not to worry. Edmonson is off to Rome with his latest benefactor, Gov. John Bel Edwards, to meet with the Pope on the issue of child sex trafficking so all is right with the world.

(But we can’t help but wonder if he will get into trouble like he did when another Pope came to Louisiana.)

The Louisiana State Police Commission may have placed on its agenda for Thursday’s meeting an item to go into “executive session for discussion of professional competence” of commission Director Cathy Derbonne but an option that rests with Derbonne could put commission Chairman T.J. Doss behind the proverbial eight ball.

Doss is the State Police member on the commission. The remaining six members are appointed by the governor from each of the state’s Congressional districts.

Besides the item to enter into executive session, a separate item calls for “consideration of whether employment of the Director of State Police Commission should be continued or terminated.”

The entire proceeding, however could blow up in the faces of commissioners should Derbonne exercise her option to insist that all discussion be held in open session. Legally, she is entitled to make that call and if she does, there could be egg on the faces of Doss, Jared J Caruso-Riecke, et al.

In something of a plot twist, the web page of the State Police Commission was down briefly Wednesday night. Efforts to go onto the PAGE resulted in a message that the web address could not be accessed. The page was back online, however, after about 20 minutes.

Interestingly, the funneling of more than $40,000 in campaign contributions by the Louisiana State Troopers’ Association (LSTA) through its executive director produced only a sham of an investigation by a political ally of Gov. John Bel Edwards.

Natchitoches attorney and former State Sen. Taylor Townsend was hired under a $75,000 contract to “investigate” the contributions which were approved by the LSTA board of directors, comprised of state troopers, and laundered through LSTA Executive Director David Young. Young made the contributions, including $10,000 each to Bobby Jindal and Edwards, by writing checks on his personal account and then submitting expense invoices to the association.

Townsend, obviously taking his marching orders from up the food chain, declined to include as part of the evidence an audio recording of a meeting of troopers concerned about the contributions at which it was acknowledged that the LSTA violated the restrictions against state troopers becoming active in political campaigns, including making contributions. Townsend also failed to follow protocol in submitting a written report of his findings and instead, made only a verbal recommendation that “no action be taken.”

Townsend likewise has been silent on the issue of the manner in which commission members were appointed. When there is a vacancy, the commission chairman is required to notify the university president in that congressional district to solicit names for nominations from which list the governor makes his appointment.

Derbonne’s major transgression appears to be that she did her job, including notifying the governor’s office of the requirements for member appointments and of commission members who, like the LSTA, violated ethics rules by making political contributions while sitting on the board. Three members ultimately resigned because of that issue.

So, bottom line, what we have here is a failure to communicate (apologies to the late Strother Martin of Cool Hand Luke). An attorney who is a crony of the governor shirks his duty to the job for which he was contracted but still collects his fees and stands in good stead with the commission while Derbonne followed the dictates of her job and finds her job is on the line.

Way to go, guys. You should really feel good about yourselves. Eulis Simien, I really thought you had more integrity than to let yourself be manipulated by Doss and Edmonson.

Every time I hear Doss talk, I wonder how it feels to have Edmonson’s hand up his backside.

Calvin Braxton, you’ve already seen what can happen when you cross Mike Edmonson, but you’re going along with this fiasco anyway?

Monica J. Manzella, I’m really not that surprised; after all, you negotiate contracts with the State Police on behalf of the City of New Orleans. No conflict there.

Jared J Caruso-Riecke, Mike Edmonson obviously owns you.

Donald Breaux, we know where your loyalty lies with your special LSTA-1 license plate on your car.

You’re all a real piece of work.

How can Simien and Caruso-Riecke (appointed June 6) and Manzella (Oct. 11), who between them, have barely a year’s experience on the board, make any kind of intelligent judgment call as to the competence of Derbonne? The answer is, they can’t; they can only rely on the manipulations of Edmonson and Doss.

And that $75,000 investigation by Taylor Townsend only to get a verbal “I recommend no action.” It’s a damn good thing you weren’t heading up the investigation of the previous commission executive director DEBRA JOHNSON. Even the Office of Inspector General nailed her for felony theft, fraud, and malfeasance in office.

If anyone in this tragicomedy should be called to the carpet for misappropriation of funds, it should be Townsend. I could’ve done what he did for a measly five bucks and a beer from the bar run by LSTA over at the State Police training facility in Zachary.

We can only hope Derbonne will exercise her rights and make them do their dirty work out in the open for everyone to see.

And if you think firing a single employee—for no other reason that she insists on doing the right thing despite what Edmonson wants—will make your problems disappear, you’re so very wrong.

If you think LouisianaVoice has been a pain in the ass so far, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet.