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More proof that when leaders are unhappy with the message, they shoot the messenger as the obvious solution:

“I hear the State Fire Marshal’s office may be going to terminate several employees (this) week based on their (the employees) not being loyal to the agency and (State Fire Marshal Butch) Browning. There is actually a DPS (Department of Public Safety and Corrections) rule that says you have to be loyal.”

That’s the message LouisianaVoice received from one of its sources over the weekend.

If true, it gives credence to the expression that no good deed goes unpunished.

The overall administrative mood at the Louisiana Office of State Fire Marshal (LOSFM) has been more than a little surly since our initial STORY last week about unqualified personnel being forced to investigate possible arson cases.

With already interviews with a half-dozen sources under our belt, other sources began coming forward with claims of shortcomings in the INVESTIGATION of a fatal fire scene in St. Tammany Parish.

Also called into question was the investigation of several nursing fires in Simmesport and the arrest of an employee, who was not even at work during all but one of the fires, on some 75 counts, including cruelty to the infirm and attempted murder. An Avoyelles Parish grand jury is scheduled to investigate that case beginning on Thursday.

LouisianaVoice has since been asked to look into the circumstances of yet another Avoyelles Parish CASE in which a local firefighter was arrested in connection with the death of his wife of 10 months in a house fire. His trial is next month.

LOSFM administrators took immediate action to confront the problems with the St. Tammany and Simmesport cases by calling in employees from the field and grilling them about whether they had talked to LouisianaVoice. Among the tactics employed in improving investigative methods were threats of polygraph tests and further interrogation.

And now there are those pesky loyalty issues which appear to have placed employees’ jobs in jeopardy.

Apparently, it’s the DPS Trump card, if you’ll forgive a bad pun.

But when the so-called “loyalty rule” is invoked, it’s important to ask: to whom is this “loyalty” due?

We have not seen the rule requiring loyalty but it would be assumed that it was intended to require loyalty to the agency, DPS, and to the principles to which it espouses—namely justice administered on a fair, equitable, and impartial basis.

If that’s the case, it would seem a pretty steep hill to climb to prove disloyalty on any employee.

But if it’s loyalty to the guys in the corner offices, namely Browning, Fire Chief Brant Thompson and other top brass (whether laden with unwarranted military medals or simply blessed with protectors in high places), that’s another story.

We’ve heard the stories of LOSFM employees being reassigned to remote districts or being forced into resignations after revealing problems to management, it’s difficult to see how leadership at LOSFM warrants loyalty from anyone other than those who literally owe their jobs to Browning—those cronies brought in at higher pay grades than veteran employees.

Loyalty in exchange for political benefaction should not be a requirement of any job in government. That’s the very reason the Department of Civil Service was enacted during the second administration of Jimmie Davis.

Whistleblowers most often come forward reluctantly and after all other avenues of rectification have been exhausted.

But another reason the honchos at LOSFM might want to reconsider any rash decisions to clean house of so-called “disloyal” employees is that terminated employees, now disgruntled (as opposed to gruntled?), might feel free to open up even more to LouisianaVoice and other media outlets.

And that, guys, is the elephant in the room that you seem to be ignoring.

 

Troy Hebert just won’t go away.

But in this case, he’s probably like to.

The former commissioner of the Louisiana Office of Alcohol and Tobacco Control (ATC) is scheduled in U.S. District Court Monday as a federal racial discrimination LAWSUIT  against him and ATC cranks up.

The lawsuit, to be tried before U.S. District Court Judge John W. DeGravelles, was filed by former ATC agent Charles M. Gilmore of Baton Rouge, Daimin T. McDowell of Bossier Parish, and Larry J. Hingle of Jefferson Parish.

The three claim that Hebert made working conditions so bad that employees had to take medical leave or were forced to resign. Each of the three filed separate complaints with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and received “right to sue” notices.

LouisianaVoice first reported the filing of the lawsuit three years ago, in July 2014. https://louisianavoice.com/2014/07/14/forcing-grown-men-to-write-lines-overnight-transfers-other-bizarre-actions-by-troy-hebert-culminate-in-federal-lawsuit

The lawsuit says five African-American supervisors worked in the ATC Enforcement Division when Hebert, a former state senator from Jeanerette, was appointed by then-Gov. Bobby Jindal in November 2010. “By means of the manipulative actions by Troy Hebert…there are now no African-American supervisors within the ATC Enforcement Division,” the petition says.

Prior to Hebert’s appointment, the three “had unblemished records with no prior disciplinary actions,” the suit says. “Each…had been promoted to supervisory positions at ATC before Troy Hebert’s arrival.”

The suit says Hebert “deliberately acted in disregard of the plaintiffs’ clearly established rights to be free from racial discrimination, race-based harassment and retaliation.

Gilmore worked for 10 years as a corrections sergeant and Louisiana State Police trooper before joining ATC in 1998 where he worked his way up to Special Agent in Charge until he was “constructively discharged” by Hebert on Sept. 27, 2013, the lawsuit says.

“Constructive discharge” is when working conditions become so intolerable that an employee cannot stay in the position or accepts forced resignation.

McDowell was hired by ATC in 2005 and in his seven years was promoted three times. Hingle was hired in 1991. During his 21 years of employment, he was also promoted three times.

The lawsuit also alleges that on Aug. 22, 2012, two days after taking leave, Gilmore and McDowell were told by fellow agent Brette Tingle that Hebert intended to break up the “black trio” a reference to Gilmore, McDowell and Supervising Agent Bennie Walters. Walters was subsequently fired on Sept. 7.

“If you find that we’re doing something wrong, I hope you’ll let us know.”

—Louisiana State Office of Fire Marshal Chief Brant Thompson, to LouisianaVoice publisher Tom Aswell several weeks ago after learning we were examining expenditures of the fire marshal’s office.

“Oh, we will, Brant. You can count on it.”

—Our response.

 

Bureaucrats always blame the messenger.

Rather than devote productive efforts to cleaning up their act when they are exposed, management of public agencies would always rather go on a hunt to exact reprisals on those who may have blown the whistle.

That’s what took place today as several field personnel were called in and grilled about whether they were the sources for two recent LouisianaVoice stories. You can see those stories HERE and HERE.

And as an update to those stories, WWL-TV has CONFIRMED earlier reports by LouisianaVoice that Nanette Krentel, 49, wife of St. Tammany Parish Fire District No. 12 Chief Stephen Krentel, did not die from last Friday’s fire that destroyed the family home, but instead, died of a gunshot wound.

Even when a Louisiana Office of State Fire Marshal (LOSFM) inspector attempts to correct problems internally without alerting the media, those inspectors suddenly find themselves “reassigned” and forced to travel 200 miles or more to report to work in, say, Shreveport if the poor guy resides in the Baton Rouge area, or to Houma if he lives in Monroe.

And while these might not be actual cases, LouisianaVoice has learned that such reassignments do occur at LOSFM.

On Friday, field personnel were interrogated and told they would be required to submit to polygraph tests at unspecified times (“whenever we call you in to do so”) and that they would be interrogated further.

Reports out of LOSFM headquarters were that LOSFM Fire Chief Brant Thompson was “livid” over reports that staff are inadequately trained and certified before they are fully prepared to conduct arson investigations. One inspector, Henry Rayborn, highly regarded for his professionalism by nearly a dozen of his co-workers interviewed by LouisianaVoice, resigned following a confrontation with Thompson over the St. Tammany fire investigation.

That’s a strange reaction from Thompson, coming as it does only weeks after he contacted LouisianaVoice after we spent the better part of a week poring over office expenditures.

“We’re really glad you’re taking a look at our operations,” he said. “It’s always good to have someone checking us out and I want you to know I’m here to cooperate with you in every way I can. If you find that we’re doing something wrong, I hope you’ll let us know.”

Actually, Brant, we thought that was your job.

And, Brant, just so you know: When you try strong-arm tactics to keep people from talking, it almost always blows up in your face.

 

A second individual has come forward with more information which illustrates the manner in which the Louisiana Office of State Fire Marshal (LOSFM) mishandled a suspected arson investigation in St. Tammany Parish late last week.

The bodies of Nanette Krentel, 49, and two of her pets were recovered from a residential FIRE last Friday. She was the wife of St. Tammany Fire District No. 12 Chief Stephen Krentel. Early but unconfirmed reports indicate she had a bullet wound to the head.

State law requires that any agency investigating a homicide assign as its lead investigator a certified arson investigator but LOSFM instead assigned an inspector, Henry B. Rayborn, to the investigation.

A former LOSFM investigator voiced his concern to LouisianaVoice over the lack of professionalism and inadequate training in that fire and a string of fires set in an Avoyelles Parish nursing home. The fire marshal’s investigation of the nursing home fires has resulted in the arrest of an apparent innocent nurse employed at the facility and the suspension of her license. Her case is scheduled to go before an Avoyelles Parish Grand Jury next Thursday.

https://louisianavoice.com/2017/07/20/losfm-botches-two-fire-investigations-one-involving-a-suspicious-death-other-in-bogus-charges-against-nurse/

A second former employee of LOSFM has now come forward to provide more information to LouisianaVoice. Among the blunders committed by the fire marshal’s office in that investigation:

  • A perimeter was not set up to secure the crime scene;
  • Fire Marshal investigators lacked proper equipment and experience to handle such a complex scene;
  • The lead investigator had no experience and was not comfortable handling a death investigation;
  • Private industry fire investigators secured more evidence than the numerous SFM deputies on scene;
  • Private investigators contacted Brant Thompson, who immediately reassigned the case to Jason Johnston. This was after the investigation was already screwed up;
  • Rayborn, one of the State Fire Marshal investigators on the scene, resigned after confronting Thompson on the issues of lack of training, experience, etc.;
  • The still-active investigation is now being handled by Rick Jones.

“This investigation is very complex and believed to have foul play involved,” our latest source said. “The State Fire Marshal’s office is slacking big time. This will eventually come forward as we believe the victim’s husband, who knows State Fire Marshal Butch Browning well, is extremely disappointed with the investigation so far.”