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Archive for the ‘Transparency’ Category

Do you happen to remember the LouisianaVoice STORY of April 2014 in which Jeff Mercer, owner of a defunct Mangham construction company, claimed in a lawsuit that the state owed him more than $11 million that was withheld after he resisted shakedown efforts from a Department of Transportation and Development (DOTD) inspector who demanded that Mercer “put some green” in his hand and that he could “make things difficult for Mercer?”

Or do you happen to remember the follow up LouisianaVoice STORY of December 2015 in which the inspector, Willis Jenkins, admitted during the trial that he did indeed say he “wanted green,” but that he was only joking. Or that because money Mercer said he was entitled to was withheld, he eventually had to shutter his construction company?

Apparently Mercer possessed sufficient proof that a 12-person jury, after a grueling, 30-day trial, unanimously awarded him $20 million. Not only did the jury hold DOTD liable for damages, but it also held four individual DOTD employees—Willis Jenkins, Michael Murphy, Barry Lacy, and John Eason—personally liable.

Employed by the jury in arriving at its verdict was such benign nomenclature as “collusion,” “bribery,” “extortion,” “conspiracy,” and “corruption.”

But that wasn’t good enough for the Chief Judge of the Second Circuit Court of Appeal, a judge with a spotty legal record of his own—and a judge with ties sufficiently close to DOTD that he probably should never have touched this case in the first place—not even with the proverbial 10-foot pole.

Mercer’s award was not just reduced, but obliterated, when it was overturned in its entirety, showing again how subtle nuances of the legal system allow for gross injustice to be perpetrated against those lacking the right connections or campaign cash.

There was a similar case in Calcasieu Parish involving contractor Billy Broussard, a gravity drainage district, and a contract to clean hurricane debris out of a local bayou. Broussard was instructed to clean out pre-storm debris, to be paid by FEMA. FEMA refused to pay for the unauthorized cleanup, and the gravity drainage district has refused to honor its obligations, costing Broussard millions of dollars.

And the legal system has been irresponsible in protecting the rights of first Broussard and now Mercer, leaving one to wonder with some justification: “What happens when I need the protection of the courts?”

It’s interesting that in our society, we tend to put a lot of faith in robes. But a black robe and a gavel do not endow a person with wisdom, or even knowledge. They are merely symbolic. Yet, when we walk into a courtroom, we are expected—required—to be reverent, attentive, and respectful and to never, under any circumstances, question the authority of the man or woman on the raised bench clad in that black robe and holding that gavel.

Of course there must be decorum in an environment of dispute resolution. Otherwise, events quickly descend into chaos. But that certainly does not mean that the presiding officer of the court is infallible. Far from it.

And that seems to be the one fact that some judges tend to forget—all too often.

Judge Henry N. Brown, as Chief Judge of the Second Circuit, has the responsibility of assigning cases. In Mercer’s case, he somewhat incredibly chose to assign it to himself—and wrote the decision.

The problem with that? Oh, not much…except that Brown’s father was a civil engineer for DOTD for 44 years, thus creating what could be perceived as an instant conflict of interest. Nor, apparently, did he ever once see the need to inform Mercer or his attorney—or anyone else, for that matter—of this inconvenient little fact.

Mercer’s attorney, David Doughty of Rayville, is understandably upset. “Mercer has a constitutional right to a fair trial before an impartial judge,” he says in his MEMORANDUM in Support of Application for Rehearing and his Motion to Recuse and Vacate the Panel’s Opinion.

“Only after the June 7 decision (by the Second Circuit) did plaintiff (Mercer)/appellee learn that Chief Judge Henry Brown, Jr. failed to disclose the critical fact that his father, Henry N. Brown, Sr., had been a civil engineer for the State of Louisiana in the Shreveport area for 44 years,” the memorandum says.

Doughty cited a case in which a West Virginia judge refused to recuse himself and the state Supreme Court subsequently found “that the risk of perceived bias was so great that due process requires recusal.”

“Judge Brown’s failure to recuse himself from the case or even disclose this huge potential bias undermines the very fabric of our people’s faith in the judicial integrity of the Second Circuit Court of Appeal,” the memorandum says. “This failure erodes public confidence in the integrity or capacity of this judiciary.”

Doughty wrote that the Second Circuit’s decision should be vacated “especially in the wake of a unanimous 12-person jury verdict finding that the plaintiff had proven governmental corruption and conspiracy.”

Brown won a close race for reelection as district attorney in 1984 over then State Rep. Bruce Bolin of Minden. In that campaign, Bolin accused Brown of having dropped charges against 230 suspects. Some of those charges, Bolin said, included rape, narcotics violations and DWI. Bolin, in what must be considered campaign rhetoric, also said Brown had not adequately prosecuted murder cases.

But Brown was known for his dogged prosecution of murder cases as a district attorney. Sending five defendants to the electric chair, he was featured on CBS’s 60 Minutes and the Fox Channel’s The Reporters. He was called “The Deadliest Prosecutor” by one publication.

At least one of Brown’s high-profile prosecutions, however, was overturned by the Louisiana Supreme Court.

In 1986, he was the district attorney in the prosecution of James M. Monds of Keithville in Caddo Parish. Monds, at the time a surgical technician at Barksdale AFB, was convicted of the murder of a woman who was raped, assaulted, and mutilate in a high school parking lot. Despite his denial that he had ever met the victim and that he had no knowledge of her death, he was convicted. In 1994, the Louisiana Supreme Court ruled that insufficient evidence, most of it of a circumstantial nature, existed to continue to incarcerate Monds. He was subsequently released after serving nearly nine years in prison.

Doughty said it is a “matter of common sense that someone whose family is so deeply connected to the DOTD should not hear the case out of fundamental fairness” and that the decision to do so constituted violations of CANONS 2 and 3 of the Code of Judicial Conduct.

So, bottom line: There is often little correlation between law and justice.

And people like Jeff Mercer and Billy Broussard end up nailed to the wall by a perverted legal system that is grotesquely unfair, to say the least.

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By Robert Burns (Special to LouisianaVoice)

Audience members attending the regular monthly meeting of the Louisiana State Police Commission (LSPC) on Thursday could be forgiven for believing they were attending the wrong meeting. During brief recesses, many attendees were observed commenting about the lack of tension and anxiety that have been so prevalent in past meetings.

With the exception of one hostile exchange between board member Calvin Braxton and Chairman T. J. Doss, the meeting was devoid of the hostility which has dominated so many of its meetings over the last several years. That hostile exchange arose from item five of the meeting’s agenda, which called for retaining the promotional test scores for 2016, with them remaining valid for another year. At its previous meeting, the educational authorities explained that, because of significant changes in the content of the examination, everyone should be required to retest to qualify for a promotion.

Braxton’s frustration stemmed from his contention that he had the full and enthusiastic support of Chairman Doss right up to the point of the meeting, at which time Braxton claimed Doss “had a totally different story” and opposed his measure, thus “making me look stupid.” Doss countered in saying, “I’m one vote,” and then stated that Braxton’s memory of their conversations was “quite selective.” Braxton, clearly irked by that remark, said, “Well, I tell you what,” and then decided not to complete his sentence and concluded, “I’m done with it.” He then apologized to the audience and to the troopers.

Leon “Bucky” Millet, retired trooper, has long voiced his complaints entailing the Commission, and, at the request of board member Eulis Simien, Jr., Millet, a watchdog over the Commission who has intensified his oversight over the last two years, submitted all his complaints in writing. One of those complaints entailed Millet’s contention that a “conflict” exists regarding Chairman Doss, as an active trooper, simultaneously serving as Chairman of the Commission. Perhaps subscribing to the theory that the best defense is an aggressive offense, Chairman Doss stunned Millet, other board members, and the audience by voluntarily agreeing to forego any promotional testing (and thus any promotions) during the duration of his 3 ½ year term as Chairman. Millet acknowledged that would allay any concerns he had regarding any conflict.

Next, Commission Executive Director Jason Hannaman addressed Millet’s complaint regarding “prohibited political activity” entailing the law firm of Taylor, Porter by indicating that the complaint “appears without merit” because the law firm is not a member of the Commission and therefore not subject to the same restrictions as members are subjected. The Commission voted unanimously to accept Hannaman’s report on the matter.

Next, Hannaman addressed the Jason Starnes appointment. He tiptoed around the prospect that former LSP Colonel Mike Edmonson may have initially improperly appointed Starnes to a position, but he indicated that the action was corrected via Starnes’ appointment to another newly-created position (Chief Administrative Officer). Upon Hannaman concluding his report, member Eulis Simien, Jr. voiced displeasure with “the manner in which the approval for that position came about.” He specifically referenced him, along with other members, being under a clearly-false perception that the position would entail no increase in pay.

In reality, Starnes received a substantial increase in pay from the creation of the position. Millet then stated that Simien previously asked Edmondson if the position was being created for Jason Starnes, and that Edmonson “emphatically denied” that the position was being created for Starnes. Simien stated that his recollection of his question was “directed at a position and not for any particular person.” Millet acknowledged that may well be the case, but that, “in my wildest imagination, the position wouldn’t be created for anyone but Jason Starnes.” The Commission voted to accept Hannaman’s report with the caveat that “misleading information had been provided.” Members Monica Manzella and Harold Pierite, Sr. abstained based upon them not having been board members at the time the position was approved.

Next, Hannaman addressed nominations to fill Commission vacancies. Hannaman indicated proper procedures for notifying colleges of vacancies and requesting names of those colleges to fill those vacancies were followed until around 2008. Thereafter, Hammaman indicated the colleges “were not notified by the Executive Director of the LSPC” and that, therefore, “in turn, the colleges failed to send nominations to the governor to fill vacancies that occurred.” Hannaman indicated corrective action was taken on or around October 13, 2016 to require the executive director to notify colleges and universities going forward and further indicated that governor(s) had acted properly in that the Louisiana Constitution “provides that they shall make appointments if the colleges fail to make nominations.”

Millet stated past actions by governors were tantamount to “speeding but there was no speed limit sign.” Commissioners Jared Caruso-Riecke, echoing sentiments first espoused by Simien, said he, Simien, and Manzella were “appointed under the procedure being complained about” but emphasized that all of their appointments “were legal.” Riecke also added that no “legal burden” existed for the Commission to notify the colleges but it just did so as a practice but, going forward, since the Commission had implemented a rule to notify colleges, notices would go out going forward. Simien echoed those sentiments. Millet indicated he was satisfied with the Commission’s corrective actions.

Next, the issue of WAEs (when actually employed) employees was addressed. Ginger Krieg, Human Resources Manager for Louisiana Public Safety, emphasized that, in order to qualify for these positions, one must have graduated from the LSP Academy; however, Millet countered that he could supply names of WAE employees who aren’t such graduates and referenced one “making $80,000 a year for coming in a day or two a week.” The Commission committed to having a full list of WAE employees for the next meeting, after which time the Commission will decide which positions for which it will seek job descriptions and duties for those employees.

The Commission also discussed records retention and the potential requirement for a written investigative report by former Commission legal counsel Taylor Townsend. The Commission committed to send Townsend a written request that all Commission files be returned, and it also instructed legal counsel Lenore Feeney to research whether Townsend was in fact required to issue a written report of his findings (she indicated she felt a written report was indeed required).

Also discussed was Millet’s complaints entailing malfeasance in office and payroll fraud. Chairman Doss indicated that matters such as that must be investigated by the appropriate law enforcement authorities and not by the Commission. Millet was accepting of that statement.

Audience members openly discussed why the Commission’s meeting today differed so markedly from those of the recent past in terms of transparency and tranquility. One frequent attendee indicated she felt the Commission had little choice because it had been “pressured” into changing by blog and newspaper exposure. Another regular attendee referenced the prospect that the absence of the overbearing shadow of former Col. Mike Edmonson resulted in Commission members, employees, and others feeling far more relaxed. Perhaps the best question to ask regarding the stunning improvement in meeting atmosphere is “does it really matter what brought it about?”

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It’s a classic political maneuver whenever a public figure is in trouble: get out in front of the story and release it yourself to make yourself either the good guy or a sympathetic figure—whichever the situation dictates.

Take Superintendent of State Police Mike Edmonson, for example.

First, he yanks a national award intended for a former Trooper of the Year and gets himself nominated instead, which by most standards, is a really shoddy way to treat a subordinate.

The he invites 15 of his best friends, also LSP subordinates, with him to San Diego to watch him bask in the moment—at the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) 123rd Annual Conference and Exposition held on October 15-18, 2016.

And he dispatches four of those to drive to California in an unmarked State Police SUV permanently assigned to his second in command, Charles Dupuy.

But when he realizes that LouisianaVoice, which has been working on this story for a couple of months now, and New Orleans TV investigative reporter Lee Zurik are planning to release a fairly critical story Monday night about his little escapade, he decides to beat them to the punch by going PUBLIC with his version of events.

But in doing so, this so-called “leader” callously tosses the four who drove the state vehicle under the bus while professing none too convincingly to be “embarrassed” by the whole affair. I mean, it’s a little difficult to be embarrassed when one of the four’s expenses for the trip was approved by Dupuy.

So much for the Loyalty part of that “Courtesy, Loyalty, Service” motto of the Louisiana State Police. If you’re going to give permission (as Edmonson did) for four men to drive to California and they take a state vehicle permanently assigned to your second in command, and that same second in command (Dupuy) signs off on the expenses of the senior member of the four (Williams), then it necessarily means that the top brass of Louisiana State Police (Edmonson, Dupuy, et al) were complicit and Edmonson can hardly discipline the four without coming down on Dupuy as well.

charles-dupuy

Sour grapes? You bet. No one likes being scooped on a story in which so much time and effort has been devoted. And this is not to be taken as criticism of The Advocate. In their shoes, I would not have done things any differently. And it’s certainly obvious that reporter Jim Mustian he did more than a little digging on his own as evidenced by his interview with a spokesman for the Metropolitan Crime Commission in New Orleans. We don’t begrudge participation of other media in a story such as this. Indeed, we welcome it. News is the exclusive domain of no one.

But it’s also just as evident that Edmonson had his PR machine cranked up full tilt in a desperate act of damage control.

He allowed those four State Troopers to make the trip in a State Police vehicle, a Ford Expedition—because, he said, it represented a savings to State Police. That was less than two months before he testified before members of the House Committee on Appropriations on December 6, 2016, that his department was in dire need of 658 additional VEHICLES (Scroll to the 7:40 point in the proceedings).

And he did it all on the state dime.

717,200 state dimes, to be precise, or as close as we can come, given the information provided by LSP was incomplete. That comes to at least $71,720 in taxpayer funds as the LSP assemblage partied even as the state barreled headlong toward yet another budgetary shortfall.

Gov. John Bel Edwards only last week issued a call for a 10-day SPECIAL SESSION of the legislature in an attempt to address a projected $304 million budget hole. That session began Monday at 6:30 p.m. and is scheduled to end by midnight, Feb. 22.

It’s not as though Edmonson needed validation badly enough to yank the honor from one of his subordinates. He has, after all, won other major awards:

  • FBI Washington DC, Top 25 Police Administrators Award, 2009
  • Sheriff Buford Pusser National Law Enforcement Officer of the Year Award, 2013
  • Human Trafficking, Faces of Hope Award, 2013
  • Inner City Entrepreneur (ICE) Institute—Top Cop Award, 2013
  • American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators Martha Irwin Award for Lifetime Achievement in Highway Safety, 2014
  • New Orleans Convention and Visitors Bureau, Captain Katz Lifetime Award for Outstanding Achievement in Public Safety, 2015.

Edmonson’s expenses were paid by IACP as the organization’s “honored guest,” according to LSP Maj. Doug Cain, and the travel and lodging expenses of Lafargue, who submitted expense claims only for $366 in meals (though he did turn in a time sheet so he could be paid for attending the event), were apparently picked up by the Louisiana State Troopers Association (LSTA) as best we can determine.

Cain said the reason so many personnel made the trip was because there were two other national conferences being held simultaneously: the Association of State Criminal Investigative Agencies (ASCIA), and the National Safety Council Annual Conference. Edmonson said the conference is an annual event and was included in the LSP budget.

But that didn’t prevent everyone involved from taking time to party hardy. This happy hour group photo was snapped at a San Diego watering hole.

san-diego-happy-hour

That’s Mike Edmonson right up front, on the left. Third from left is his wife and standing behind him on the third row in the yellow shirt is his brother, State Police Maj. Paul Edmonson. When LouisianaVoice requested a list of those who traveled to San Diego, Paul Edmonson’s name was conveniently omitted from the list. Yet, here he is.

The entire affair more closely resembled a frat party than a professional function, given the side trip to Vegas and the barroom fellowship.

Here is the announcement of Edmonson’s award from the Louisiana State Police Facebook page:

Following a nomination process that included numerous highway and public safety leaders from across the country, Louisiana State Police Superintendent Colonel Mike Edmonson was awarded the “J. Stannard Baker Award for Highway Safety.” Colonel Edmonson was honored with the prestigious award during the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) Annual Conference which was held from October 15-18, 2016 in San Diego, CA. The IACP Annual Conference has a reputation for providing quality education on pressing law enforcement topics, and at this year’s conference Colonel Edmonson served on a panel of law enforcement leaders from across the nation to discuss topics such as community and training.

At each year’s IACP Annual Conference, the J. Stannard Baker award is presented to recognize law enforcement officers and others who have made outstanding lifetime contributions to highway safety. The award is sponsored by the IACP, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), and the Northwestern University’s Center for Public Safety. For an individual to receive this award, they must be nominated by a law enforcement agency or other traffic safety group or official. They must also be a full time law enforcement officer of a state, county, metropolitan, or municipal agency or be an individual who has made a significant lifetime contribution to highway safety.

The IACP is a professional association for law enforcement worldwide. The IACP actively supports law enforcement through advocacy, outreach, and education. By establishing partnerships across the public safety spectrum, the IACP provides members with resources and support in all aspects of law enforcement policy and operations. The organization helps members to perform their jobs safely and effectively, while also educating the public on the role of law enforcement to help build sustainable community relations.

The glowing news release, however, does not tell the complete story.

Sources close to the story have told LouisianaVoice that New Orleans State Police Maj. Carl Saizan, a 33-year State Police veteran and former Louisiana State Trooper of the Year, was originally nominated for the award but that the nomination had to pass through Edmonson for his stamp of approval. Instead, Saizan’s nomination was mysteriously scratched in favor of….Edmonson. Department of Transportation and Development (DOTD) Secretary Dr. Shawn Wilson ultimately signed off on Edmonson’s nomination.

Repeated efforts to contact Saizan for a comment were unsuccessful but LouisianaVoice was told he was not a happy camper about Edmonson’s snub. In fact, he may well have voiced his displeasure to Edmonson because he has since been removed as Region One Patrol Commander over Troop A (Baton Rouge), Troop B (New Orleans) and Troop L (Mandeville) and placed over only Troop N, which is exclusively New Orleans.

Edmonson, for his part, denied any knowledge of Saizan’s nomination. “I don’t know anything about anyone else being nominated,” he said in a telephone interview on February 13. “This was a lifetime achievement award based on my 37 years with State Police, mainly my last nine years as Superintendent,” he said.

Maj. Doug Cain, LSP Public Information Officer, told LouisianaVoice that he submitted Edmonson’s name for nomination for the award in “early May” of 2016 but a chain of emails received by LouisianaVoice indicates that saizan’s nomination was in the works as early as April 7. That timeline coincides with the story we received that upon receiving communication that Saizan was being nominated, Edmonson, or someone on his behalf—and certainly with his blessing—decided that he and not Saizan should be the nominee.

Here is Cain’s email:

From: Doug Cain
Sent: Saturday, February 18, 2017 9:28 PM
To: Tom Aswell
Subject: Re: QUESTION

I submitted app early May.  Don’t know exact date off the top of my head.

For those who may not recall, remember in June of 2014, State Sen. Neil Riser (R-Columbia) tried to sneak an amendment onto a bill literally during the closing minutes of the regular legislative session that would have pumped up Edmonson’s retirement benefits by about $55,000 per year. In case you don’t remember, Edmonson feigned ignorance of that maneuver as well, saying he had no knowledge of any such attempt only to later admit differently that he gave the go-ahead to the attempt in the full knowledge he had chosen to lock in his retirement years earlier and that that decision was supposed to be “irrevocable.”

So someone acts on Edmonson’s behalf to benefit him and he then attempts to distance himself from the action by claiming ignorance.

Does anyone see a pattern here?

LouisianaVoice received corroboration of the Saizan story from six independent sources, all from law enforcement veterans—three active and three of whom are retired.

The 15 “guests,” along with their salaries, who traveled to California to witness the presentation at the three-day International Association of Chiefs of Police convention in San Diego on October 16-18 were:

  • Derrell Williams, of Internal Affairs, $132,800 per year;
  • Col. Jason Starnes, recently promoted into the newly-created $150,750 per year unclassified position of Chief Administrative Officer (CAO) to assist the Undersecretary in the administration of all programs and sections within the Office of Management and Finance. The job description states Chief Administrative Officer shall exercise the duties and responsibilities of the Office of Management and Finance in the absence of the Undersecretary at the direction of the Deputy Secretary. Perk – he receives Free housing at the State Police Headquarters compound (dorm) because he is separated;
  • Special Assistant Superintendent Charles Dupuy, Edmonson’s $161,300 per year alter-ego;
  • Paul Edmonson, Command Inspector of Special Investigations Section ($136,800). He is Mike Edmonson’s brother and was not included in the list provided by LSP of those making the trip but somehow showed up in a group photo of the contingent in a San Diego bar;
  • John W. Alario, son of Senate President John A. Alario, Jr., who pulls down $115,000 per year as Executive Director of the Louisiana Liquefied Petroleum Gas Commission;
  • Layne Barnum, Command Inspector, Criminal Investigations Division ($132,800);
  • Greg Graphia, Operational Development Section consists of the Planning, Public Affairs, and Research Units. The Section functions as staff for Mike Edmonson ($124,100);
  • Special Deputy Superintendent over Bureau of Investigations Murphy Paul ($150,750). The Bureau of Investigation is responsible for the investigation of criminal activity, intelligence gathering, and case and technical support in the State of Louisiana.
  • Chavez Cammon, Criminal Investigations Unit, New Orleans ($96,900);
  • Stephen Lafargue, Secretary-Treasurer of the Louisiana State Troopers’ Association (LSTA) and Bureau of Investigations for Troop D in Lake Charles ($112,300);
  • Rodney Hyatt, HQ President of the Louisiana State Troopers’ Association (LSTA) and Lt. of Operational Development Section ($99,800);
  • Master Trooper Thurman Miller, President of the Central States Troopers Coalition of Louisiana ($72,600);
  • Trooper Alexandr Nezgodinsky, Insurance Fraud Section, Baton Rouge ($50,900);
  • Charles McNeal, Investigative Support Section (ISS) LA-SAFE Director ($124,100);
  • Brandon Blackburn, an $18,700-per-year unclassified student/intern who is the son of the late Frank Blackburn who served as legal counsel to the Department of Public Safety (DPS). The younger Blackburn, along with his mother, Cindy Kreider Blackburn, and Mike Edmonson’s wife, Suzanne, paid their own expenses, records show.

With Edmonson, Dupuy and Starnes all in San Diego, it’s a good thing no major emergencies like floods, shootings or petro-chemical plant explosions occurred during their absence. But it nevertheless raises questions as to the wisdom of having the top three LSP administrators out of state at the same time. Cain, however, defended the decision, saying, Command and control is maintained 24/7.”

Yeah, like Bobby Jindal continued to run the state while campaigning for President in Iowa.

The decision to have LSP pay the salaries of such a large group of attendees, as well as travel, lodging, meal and conference registration expenses via state LaCarte credit cards, seems questionable enough. But the justification of having four troopers—Derrell Williams, Rodney Hyatt, Thurman Miller and Alexandr Nezgodinsky—drive a state vehicle from Baton Rouge to San Diego (with an overnight stopover in an expensive Las Vegas casino hotel)—was the most puzzling.

Miller is a member of the Retirement Board and President of the Central States Troopers Coalition of Louisiana, Inc. 

Traveling via Interstates 10 and 8 from Baton Rouge, the four would have had to go northwest from Phoenix about 250 miles for an overnight stay in Vegas and from there, 260 miles southwest to San Diego. The straight-line distance between Phoenix and San Diego via I-8, on the other hand, is 350 miles. That means the 510-mile detour taken by the four was about 160 miles longer than necessary.

The four logged seven days for the round trip—four days driving to California and three days on the return trip—plus the four days at the conference itself.

Not only did fuel for the trip cost $610.98, but the four troopers combined to log 249 total hours during the trip (12 hours per day each for three of the men except for the final day, when 11 hours were claimed by the same three) on their time sheets. Each man was paid for 56 regular hours (224 hours total) for the seven days on the road and for 27 hours each (81 total hours) in overtime pay for the trip. Each also was paid for attending the four-day conference, according to time sheets submitted by the troopers.

Maj. Derrell Williams was the only one of the four to claim no overtime for the 11 days that included the trip and the conference. That’s because those with the rank of captain or above cannot earn overtime pay. They can, however, earn straight compensatory time. His salary and expenses still came to $5,730.

Cain was asked for the justification for taking the vehicle and his email response was: More cost effective to transport 4 individuals and also provide local transportation in San Diego for departmental personnel.”

Edmonson likewise said by the time the cost of flying to San Diego and renting a car was tabulated, it was more economical to have the men drive.

But when their travel time (regular and overtime hours), meals and hotel bills were totaled, the cost of driving the vehicle came to more than $21,000, which does not appear to fit the “cost effective” justification given by Cain or Edmonson. In fact, each of the four could have flown first class for less than that. Edmonson said he would re-calculate the cost of driving the vehicle to California.

On Friday, he heaved the four men under the bus when he announced that they would be required to repay overtime claimed as well as hotel expenses for their overnight stay in Las Vegas. He said Maj. Catherine Flinchum who formerly worked in Internal Affairs, the section Williams now heads up, would conduct an investigation of the trip by the four men.

Interestingly, Williams’s supervisor who signed off on his $2,297.42 expense report was Lt. Col. Charles Dupuy, to whom the vehicle they drove is permanently assigned. That leaves unanswered the question of whether Edmonson’s investigation would extend to his second in command for approving the use of his vehicle and for approving the expenditures.

The bottom line here is that Edmonson knew of and approved taking the vehicle to San Diego and knew of the Las Vegas trip. His signature may not be on the approval for the expenses, but his fingerprints are all over this entire sordid affair. He owns it and no amount of public contrition can change that.

As for others who made the trip by auto, Capt. Gregory Graphia, who also was in San Diego, signed off on time sheets (including the overtime logged) of both Rodney Hyatt and Thurman Miller while Hyatt signed off on Alexandr Nezgodinsky’s time sheet even though he is not Nezgodinsky’s supervisor. A tight little incestuous circle of responsibility, to be sure.

Nezgodinsky, by the way, presents an interesting question in his own right. It seems he has been a State Trooper only since May 2014. So how did a trooper with so little seniority rate a free trip to San Diego? The answer to that may lie in the fact that he was a San Diego city police officer as late as 2012. Perhaps the Louisiana crowd needed a tour guide to the tourist hot spots.

As far as Cain’s somewhat questionable explanation of “local transportation for departmental personnel” goes, Enterprise, which has a contract with the state for discounted rates, still rents cars in San Diego.

One law enforcement official offered a third possible reason for taking the vehicle. “Any way you can check to see if booze for their private parties was transported out there?” he asked.

Cain denied that the Expedition transported anything other than the four troopers.

The total breakdown of costs to the state was almost evenly split between salaries and expenses, records show. Altogether, the salaries for all attendees came to nearly $34,800 and expenses for travel, lodging, registration and meals were $36,233, plus whatever unreported expenses were incurred by Paul Edmonson, according to incomplete records provided by LSP as a result of LouisianaVoice’s public records requests.

Among those costs were hotel bills far exceeding the maximum allowed by state travel guidelines. While several hotel bills were submitted for as much as $299 per night, state guidelines set a maximum limit of $126 per night for several listed cities, including San Diego.

Likewise, the $68-per-day limit for meals ($13 for breakfast, $19 for lunch and $36 for dinner) was routinely exceeded, sometimes just for breakfast. Three examples included meal expense statements of $60 and $72 for breakfast, $68 and $102 for lunch and $96, $120 and $193 for dinner.

redacted-starnes-invoice

redacted-edmonson-invoice

nezgodinsky-original-expenses

nezgodinsky-amended-expenses

hotel-bill

hyatt-expenses

Note the redaction of costs on several of the documents provided by LSP and the overtime hours charged.

The trip could prove embarrassing for the governor who recently posted on his office’s web page his PLAN to “stabilize the FY17 budget deficit of $304 million.”

Included in that plan:

  • No money in the FY17 budget for inflation or merit pay for state employees (so many years now that we’ve actually lost count but a good guess would be seven or eight years—but State Troopers have fared a little better, getting two recent raises that gave some officers increases as much as 50 percent. Those raises, by the way, did not apply to officers of the Department of Public Safety.);
  • No funds for flood related expenses.

Proposed cuts to specific programs included:

  • Louisiana Commission on Law Enforcement—$251,674. The costs of the San Diego trip represented 28.5 percent of the cuts to this one program.
  • Louisiana Emergency Response Network Board—$27,625 (the San Diego trip cost two-and-one-half times this amount).
  • Office of State Police, Operational Support Program—$7.38 million;
  • Office of State Fire Marshal, Fire Prevention Program—$900,503;
  • Office of Juvenile Justice—$4.46 million;

Granted, $71,720 doesn’t represent a lot in the overall scheme of things when talking about a $304 million total deficit. Certainly not in any defense of Edmonson, but what if this is not an anomaly? What if this kind of fiscal irresponsibility is typical throughout state government?

If you have wastes of $71,720 here and $71,720 there, and $71,720 somewhere else, to paraphrase the late U.S. Senator from Illinois, Everett Dirksen, pretty soon you’re talking about real money.

And remember, that $71,720 doesn’t include airfare, lodging and meals for Paul Edmonson since LSP failed to include him on the list of individuals who traveled to San Diego. Moreover, LSP initially provided expense records that redacted purchase amounts charged to the state LaCarte cards but later, pursuant to LouisianaVoice’s follow-up request, provided copies that were not redacted. But there were still no itemized receipts provided that showed what those purchases were.

Asked for the total cost of the trip, Cain responded, “I don’t have this figure; you have all the relevant documents.”

Well, given the deletion of Paul Edmonson from the guest list, not quite all.

Given the timing of this, the incredible waste of state resources, and the fact that the state continues to grapple with budgetary shortfalls, perhaps the time has finally come for Gov. Edwards to take somebody to the woodshed for a lesson in discretion.

Because, Governor, we’re all “embarrassed” by Edmonson’s repeated lapses in judgment.

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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.

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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.

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