New Orleans TV investigative reporter Lee Zurik cur to the heart of the problem of the State Police Commission when he questioned why a member was allowed to sit on the commission after an investigation found she had possibly committed criminal violations.

The commission has a serious public image problem in both its makeup and its history of being a rubber stamp for Louisiana State Police (LSP) administration.

In recent years:

  • Commissioners have RESIGNED after having been outed for making illegal campaign contributions;
  • Another resigned after saying the civil service body for state troopers had lost its MORAL COMPASS;
  • Two members resigned after revelations of an inappropriate relationship between the two;
  • A member resigned after NEWS REPORTS claimed he used his position in an attempt to intimidate a state trooper who had arrested his daughter for DWI;
  • A political ally of Gov. John Bel Edwards was hired to conduct an INVESTIGATION into illegal campaign contributions by the Louisiana State Troopers Association at a cost of $75,000, but curiously, never issued a report and verbally recommended that “no action be taken” in the matter;
  • A commission member who was a liquor distributor, was said to furnish alcohol to the Louisiana State Troopers Association at events held on LSP property;
  • A director was FORCED OUT in a stormy episode that saw claims that she was being followed by a private detective, and
  • Another has been LINKED to the grandson of a New Orleans mafia figure who owned several adult video stores in the New Orleans area and in 2012, his business partner, on whom he had $5 million in life insurance policies, was murdered in New Orleans east in a case that has never been solved.

That member, Jared Caruso-Riecke, was also identified in a video making a violent tackle on a speaker at a Mardi Gras event that has never been explained.

The State Police Commission is the special civil service agency created solely for the benefit of state troopers and has been tainted by its seemingly automatic approval of administrative actions and the necessity of putting out its own brush fires.

Caruso-Riecke, in a November 2020 deposition given in a lawsuit filed by former member Calvin Braxton, said under oath that the commission supervised state police concerning discipline “over what is appropriate and inappropriate, what they’re allowed to do …we make rules.”

The commission has been conspicuously quiet in the beating death of motorist Ronald Greene by state troopers in May 2019 and on a May 6 incident in which a motorcyclist was killed in a high-speed chase involving state police in Calcasieu Parish.

In the latter case, a veteran trooper was “low on speeding tickets,” according to a retired state trooper who said “They were messing with him over low stats.”

Officially, LSP denies the existence of ticket quotas, but LouisianaVoice had pretty much shot holes in that argument in stories published over the past five years. In this case, the trooper, a 20-year veteran, was being accompanied by his supervisor and in an effort to bump up his ticket count, he was instructed to pursue the cyclist, identified as 27-year-old John Blake Baldwin, who was clocked at 77 mph in a 55-mph speed zone on LA. 27 near U.S. 90.

The trooper would later say that traffic was heavy on the I-10 bridge in Lake Charles, particularly with 18-wheelers and that had he been alone, he would not have engaged in pursuit.

As the pursuit progressed, Baldwin accelerated to speeds in excess of 100 mph and while traveling through the intersection of Enterprise Boulevard, struck a raised concrete curb and was ejected from the motorcycle. He died 10 days later, on Monday of this week.

Chalk one up for a citizen’s rights to overcome the unfair restrictions of qualified immunity when a law enforcement agency oversteps its authority in meting out punitive actions in retaliation for constitutionally-protected free speech.

That’s just a somewhat fancy way of saying that Jerry Rogers has zapped St. Tammany Parish Sheriff Randy Smith and his deputies who arbitrarily decided they could violate Rogers’s rights in a manner reminiscent of some third world dictatorship.

U.S. District Judge Jane Triche-Milazzo ruled last Friday that Sheriff Randy Smith and his St. Tammany deputies illegally arrested Rogers, a former federal agent (and former St. Tammany Parish deputy), for the unpardonable sin of posting comments critical of the sheriff department’s futile investigation of the murder of Nanette Krentel. For the complete ruling, click here.

Smith ordered the arrest of Rogers for criminal defamation even though he was fully aware that the state’s CRIMINAL DEFAMATION LAW, which despite its remaining on the books, had been declared unconstitutional some four decades earlier.

But Smith, channeling Adm. David Farragut (“Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead”), had Rogers arrested despite what Judge Triche-Milazzo terms a lack of probable cause “to arrest and detain him after he sent a series of anonymous emails to the dead woman’s sister lambasting the investigation.”

Judge Triche-Milazzo’s ruling, which Smith said he will appeal, knocks down -at least in this case – a major hurdle for plaintiffs seeking damages from law enforcement agencies: qualified immunity. Qualified immunity is the legal principle that grants government officials (also including prosecutors and judges) immunity from responsibility for their actions.

The American Bar Association takes the position that qualified immunity, imposed by the U.S. Supreme Court and never enacted as official statute, is “illogical and unjust” and “fundamentally illegal.”

The ABA says on its WEB PAGE, “Qualified immunity is a judicial doctrine created by the Supreme Court that shields state actors from liability for their misconduct, even when they break the law. Under this doctrine, government agents—including but not limited to police officers—can never be sued for violating someone’s civil rights, unless they violated ‘clearly established law.’

“In other words, it is entirely possible—and quite common—for courts to hold that government agents did violate someone’s rights, but that the victim has no legal remedy, simply because that precise sort of misconduct had not occurred in past cases. In the words of a federal judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit: ‘To some observers, qualified immunity smacks of unqualified impunity, letting public officials duck consequences for bad behavior—no matter how palpably unreasonable—as long as they were the first to behave badly.’”

Judge Triche-Milazzo’s ruling clears the way for Rogers’s lawsuit against Smith and the sheriff’s department to go forward in December.

It’s a rare hurdle for a plaintiff to clear because of the protection normally afforded by the qualified immunity shield.

A Louisiana legislative committee, meanwhile, killed House Bill 51 by Rep. Edmond Jordan (D-Baton Rouge) in 2020 that would have repealed qualified immunity in this state.

To date, three states – New Mexico, Colorado, and Connecticut – have passed laws repealing qualified immunity for police officers. The U.S. SUPREME COURT, meanwhile, continues to perpetuate and even encourage police misconduct by protecting officers from legal liability by failing to reform the doctrine.

The St. Tammany Parish Sheriff’s Office, meanwhile, seems to have hit a dead-end in the investigation of the July 2017 murder of Krentel

Smith pitched the need for tax renewals for his department but the supposed financial crunch apparently wasn’t so bad that it prevented him from purchasing a $1.3 million mobile command center and drone system – a fancy way of describing a MOTOR HOME – for his department’s “crime-fighting arsenal.

The budget-busting purchase, made in February, will obviously be a valuable tool in solving Krentel’s murder. I imagine that drone will detect all manner of clues to be forwarded to deputies as they track down the killer in the air conditioned comfort of the sheriff’s mobile command center.

A Facebook posting by local citizen Terry King said, “I would hazard a guess that Jerry Rogers certainly felt the weight of the government against him in an outrageous attempt to chill his free speech …using a law that was …unconstitutional. Let’s not forget that Randy Smith was groomed for this position by convicted child molester and former sheriff Rodney “Jack” Strain, who used his office to silence his victims. It’s an unfortunate pattern in St. Tammany Parish that needs to stop.”

To say that there were two conspicuous no-shows at last Thursday’s State Police Commission meeting would be an understatement, considering the names of the two absentee members.

To say their failure to attend the commission’s monthly meeting was tantamount to shirking their official duties, considering the controversy swirling around Louisiana State Police (LSP) is likewise belaboring the obvious.

Of course, the two members who missed the meeting, St. Tammany Parish’s Jared Caruso-Riecke and New Orleans police CAPT. SABRINA RICHARDSON are currently caught up in their own controversies, which may explain their empty seats.

“… Capt. Richardson is under an internal investigation within the police department and also allegedly under investigation by law enforcement external to the police department for possible criminal violations,” said Rafael Goyeneche, president of the New Orleans-based Metropolitan Crime Commission, on March 30. “I think that that should trigger her voluntary resignation.”

Riecke is involved in a spate of COURT FILINGS involving one former business partner, has been linked to the grandson of an associate of mafia boss Frank Costello – a grandson who operated a number of adult video stores at one time – and had another partner whose 2012 MURDER in New Orleans east remains unsolved. Riecke, by the way, had life insurance polices on his partner, Bruce Cucchiara, totaling $5 million.

Both Riecke and Richardson are appointees of Gov. John Bel Edwards. Riecke, his family members and his companies are major contributors to the campaigns of both Edwards and his brother, Tangipahoa Parish Sheriff Daniel Edwards.

Granted, the State Police Commission’s function is not to investigate murders or municipal payroll fraud, but the absence of two high-profile members while new revelations are made almost daily about excessive force by state troopers and massive cheating by cadets at the State Police Academy is not a good look.

Speaking of which, it’s important that we realize that certain high-ranking personnel at LSP desperately wanted to downplay the extent of cheating by cadets at the State Police Academy in 2019. But the fact is, in the words of one retired state trooper, “[T]hey ignore the face that all of the [course] material was stolen. The cadets were not allowed to have it. It had been taken from our offices. IA (Internal Affairs) interviews …said Tia Laverdain, who is now a trooper, took the materials as an intern. Her mother was also over IA at the time.”

The interesting thing, he said, is that “when you go through the list of classes, it is all the subjects that cops get in trouble for: de-escalation, diversity, standards of conduct, use of force, taser, and legal.”

Yet, LSP command did everything it could to downplay the seriousness of the cheating. That could have been because Tia Laverdain’s mother, Treone Laverdain, was a supervisor in IA or that she was the niece of State Rep. Ed Laverdain (D-Alexandria).

Or it could have been the determination to conduct a thorough investigation of the cheating suddenly cooled when Capt. Mark Richards informed Superintendent Kevin Reeves that the cheating likely went back several years and may have even included the class in which Reeves’s son was a cadet.

No matter the reason, the cheating scandal, coming as it did on the heels of the Ronald Greene death at the hands of state troopers in Troop F has further tainted what was left of an already damaged LSP reputation.

All of which begs the question of why was SENATE BILL 239 pulled?

The bill, by State Sen. Cleo Fields (D-Baton Rouge), called for a constitutional amendment to abolish the State Police Commission and to move LSP back into state civil service. The bill made a lot of sense, given the administrative rubber stamp that the commission has become. But Field’s pulling the bill would indicate some proverbial smoke-filled, backroom dealing that sealed the bill’s fate before it could even get a committee hearing.

Was it pressure from the governor’s office? Or did the Louisiana Sheriffs’ Association lobbyists apply their own pressure? The latter is certainly plausible, given the cozy relationship between the association and LSP, nurtured by all the “legacy” cadets that enter the academy on the urging of their sheriff fathers. Of course, LSP command staff could have seen the risk to their own siblings, sons, daughters, nieces and nephews in the academy, not to mention immediate family members of influential political figures.

Fields, who has been vocal in his criticism of LSP over the May 2019 killing of Greene by troopers who then attempted to conceal their actions by claiming Greene died from injuries suffered in an auto accident following a high-speed chase (a blatant lie, it turned out), would seem to be the last person to kill his own bill to abolish the toothless commission.

Unless extreme political pressure was applied from someone with some skin in the game and the wherewithal to shut the bill down before it ever gained any political momentum.

The investigation of Ronald Greene’s death at the hands of state police is, much like the investigation into wholesale cheating by the State Police Academy Class of 2019, is plunging headlong into a classic political whitewashing.

The investigation, of course, is not without its collateral damage, a necessary accompaniment to appease the immediate family of the victim of the May 10, 2019 beating and tasing death that was initially attributed to injuries suffered in an auto accident.

Kevin Reeves RETIRED in the wake of the investigation as it was heating up. Mike Noel RESIGNED only days after being nominated to the chairmanship of the State Gaming Commission rather than face questioning from a Senate Committee during confirmation hearings about his role in the coverup of the Greene matter.

Several others resigned either in disgust or protest for the clumsy effort by State Police command to cover up of the manner in which Greene died – which in fact was far worse than how George Floyd had died only a couple of months earlier. Floyd, after all, died as a single officer knelt on his neck but Greene was attacked by several cops beat, kicked, and tased him long after he had ceased any resistance and while he was handcuffed.

Plus, no one ever lied about the circumstances of Floyd’s death. The truth was there for all to see from day one. With Greene, the lies began immediately with the concoction of the false narrative that he had died from injuries in what was as minor motor vehicle accident at worst. Body cam video did not surface for several months and LSP even denied its existence before the lie was revealed. The fact was that he had exited from his car after it sideswiped a tree and was apologizing to officers for fleeing when he was attacked.

Others have either been demoted or placed on leave. Chief legal counsel Faye Dysart Morrison was demoted and Louisiana State Police (LSP) second-in-command, Lt. Col. Doug Cain, who once confided to LouisianaVoice that he aspired to become LSP superintendent, was placed on administrative leave.

Both Morrison and Cain had their cellphones erased in the wake of the Greene investigation, a clear case of illegal destruction of evidence. Others, including Reeves, likewise had their phones swiped, but Reeves had retired and justified the erasure as routine so that his phone could be re-issued. That, of course, changed nothing insofar as destruction of evidence in the Greene matter was concerned.

While Morrison appears to have accepted her demotion, LouisianaVoice has received word that Cain, a holdover from the Mike Edmonson LSP administration, would not be receptive to such a loss of status and would refuse to return to duty at a reduction in rank.

Meanwhile, LouisianaVoice has also learned that LSP command staff is upset that we received – and published – information from leaked documents concerning the 2019 academy cheating scandal and, in classic shoot-the-messenger mode, have initiated an extensive effort to determine the source of the leak.

That would be typical of many bureaucracies: rather than attempt to solve the problem when identified, go after the source of information about the problem, all while attempting to minimize the extend of the problem.

LSP has attempted to trivialize the cheating scandal, claiming that information found in possession of cadets was no more than “study materials,” but that claim is hotly disputed by those who were there. The materials were copies of tests. Period. And there were copies of information provided by previous cadets, who were by then, full-fledged road troopers.

Cheating, according to those who actually conducted the investigation before it was abruptly halted by higher-ups, extended back several years and involved previous classes, possibly even the class attended by Reeves’s son.

The involvement of other “legacy” cadets, i.e. relatives of command staff and of influential political figures such as sheriffs and police chiefs, would explain the sudden reluctance to pursue an all-out investigation of the cheating or the firing of the entire class, which at least one investigator recommended.

So, now we have patrolling the highways of Louisiana graduates of the LSP academy, active state troopers making a lot more money than you – those who got through the academy by cheating – writing you tickets for speeding, rolling stops at stop signs, improper lane usage and other offenses.

And if you’re the wrong color and driving around any of the 12 parishes in Troop F in northeast Louisiana, you’d better drive very carefully and keep your mouth shut if you’re pulled over.

Otherwise, “Troop F is very proud to protect and serve the citizens of Louisiana, and we enthusiastically welcome visitors to our great state. If we can assist you in any way, or if you have questions concerning Troop F, please contact our Public Information Officer…”

It says so, right there on its Web page.

And if you need additional assurance, you can get a warm fuzzy from reading on the LSP Web page: “Louisiana State Police is an organization with an incredibly rich history. Our motto, ‘Courtesy, Loyalty, Service,’ has given us direction and inspiration.” 

Following testimony that Louisiana State Police attempted to cover up details of the beating death of Ronald Greene three years ago, comes the news that one of the troopers who participated in the Greene beating and tasing was arrested in ANOTHER INCIDENT in Troop F involving the beating of a black motorist.

Dakota DeMoss, who was among the troopers who beat and tased Greene to death on May 10, 2019, was arrested, along with fellow troopers Jacob Brown and George “Kam” Harper. Body-cam video showed them pull Antonio Harris from his vehicle in Franklin Parish in 2020 following a high-speed chase and then pile onto him, kneeing, slapping and punching him as he lay face down with his arms and legs splayed after he had surrendered.

All this comes on the heels of revelations that cheating at the State Police Academy in 2019 was far worse and more widespread than LSP command staff admitted at the time and that cadets involved in the cheating are now patrolling Louisiana’s highways as full-fledged state troopers.

On Oct. 8, 2019, duty officers assigned to the 2019 cadet class conducted an inspection of cadets’ living quarters and discovered a “burner” cellphone in the room of cadet Senette Small. Cellphones are prohibited during cadet training and Small at first denied the phone was hers. She finally admitted it was hers and she gave the passcode to investigators who discovered that the phone contained texts to other cadets concerning test material and that it also included what “appeared to be an actual ‘legal test,’” according to a copy of investigative findings provided to LouisianaVoice.

“Legal” was one of about a dozen separate disciplines cadets’ study during their stay at the LSP academy.

“They (LSP command) tried to say it was only study material, but make no mistake, it was wholesale cheating,” said retired LSP Capt. Mark Richards, one of the duty officers who conducted the inspection that revealed the existence of Small’s phone.

“She (Small) said she got the test from another cadet (Christopher Sink),” Richards said, adding that both were immediately fired. Another source, also a retired trooper, said Sink was rehired.

The same unidentified source, who leaked nearly 350 pages of interagency communications regarding the cheating investigation, said eight other cadets who resigned or were fired were also rehired but Richards said the number was actually four who resigned and were rehired.

In a memorandum from Richards to Lt. David Ryerson, Richards said an inspection of the mobile data terminal (MDT) of cadet Michael Starling contained an online chat with his wife (all outside communications are also prohibited during the time cadets attend the academy) that said, “Just took the test…it was the same one I got from (Garrett) Yetman.” Richards wrote that Starling “appears to be referencing the ‘Domestic & Family Matters’ exam…”

Yetman would go on to become a full-fledge state trooper but would be placed on leave after being ARRESTED in February of this year for domestic abuse.

“When we first reported the cheating the Col. Reeves (former State Police Superintendent Kevin Reeves), he was adamant about punishing everyone involved, even if it meant firing every cadet in the class (of 2019),” Richards said.

“But when we told him that the cheating likely went back five years or more and involved current road troopers, former cadets, he immediately softened his approach.”

Asked why that was, Richards replied, “You were correct that Reeves was afraid the legislature wouldn’t fund another class if the extent of the cheating was revealed. Plus, Reeves’s son had gone through the academy just a few years before – more than five years, but who’s to say his class wasn’t involved? Also, the LSP command had sons and stepsons and children of friends who had gone through the academy in that five-year period.”

This would include as many as 50 to 100 cadets who may have been members of what the Department calls “Legacy” classes (immediate family members of LSP command staff, supervisors and troop commanders, and prominent politicians), according to Lt. Leon “Bucky” Millet, a retired state trooper. That could obviously creat a potentially explosive situation should it be revealed that any of those were involved in cheating.

Now, a little more than two years after the cheating was revealed, the intern who sources say stole test and Peace Officer Standards and Training (POST) material, Tia Laverdain, is now a state trooper assigned to Internal Affairs (IA) and working under the supervision of her mother, Treone Laverdain. Their uncle is State Rep. Ed Laverdain (D-Alexandria).

Treone Laverdain was named, along with then-IA Commander Capt. Chavez Cammon and Master Trooper Kevin Ducote, as having conspired to cover up the Ronald Greene death at the hands of Troop F troopers. Treone Laverdain has since been promoted to the rank of major.

“I advocated terminating the entire class,” said Richards. “But I met opposition from LSP command and from legal. LSP’s executive legal counsel at the time, Faye Morrison even said of the cheating, ‘That’s how I got through law school.’ I was incredulous that she would say such a thing.”

A third LSP retiree said Richards was targeted by LSP administration dating back to the Mike Edmonson era. “The fact is Mark was one of the guys who was questioning all of the ethical silliness that Edmonson demonstrated in his last few years and it turns out he was correct to do so,” he said.

“They tried to isolate Mark and discredit his work and things didn’t get much better when Reeves came along. I suspect the administration’s handling (or mishandling) of the “cheating” scandal probably pushed him to retire.

“I was disappointed by every colonel I ever worked for over one issue or another, but despite those disagreements, they always managed make the necessary correction and stay an honorable course. Until now. 

“It breaks my heart to watch this slow-motion train derailment. It didn’t happen overnight and it will take a couple of generations for trust to be restored.  What started as an ethical erosion during Edmonson’s tenure evolved into something much worse under Reeves–the revelation of a rogue segment of the agency where arrogance and power became an operating norm.  And everyone implicated in north Louisiana had one thing in common: they either were hired, promoted or supervised by Kevin Reeves.  He is the common denominator, and I’m offended that his last comments to the committee taking testimony were not an acknowledgement of the tragedy of Ronald Greene’s death but rather that when he meets his maker, he will not have to account for participating in a coverup of Green’s death. Pardon me for questioning his faith, but where I come from, he’d be considered a hypocrite.”

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