Police officers are trained to enforce the law and are obligated to follow the law. However, when a police officer violates the rules of policing, the officer has a right to written notice and then the right to an appeal if he feels the punishment is unfair. The following case out of New Orleans shows how a police officer’s appeal of disciplinary action can overturn the department’s actions.
Officer Jones (Jones) and Officer Smith were sent to Canal Street due to a disruption at a bar. The officers were notified that Ms. Dana Earles broke another patron’s sunglasses while under the influence. The officers arrested Ms. Earles. While in the police vehicle, Ms. Earles recounted an unidentified officer had raped her at an unspecified time. The officers informed their superior of the arrest and Ms. Earles’s allegation.
An investigation was launched against Jones by the New Orleans Police Department (NOPD) and the Public Integrity Bureau (PIB) for his failure to abide by Rule 4, Performance of Duty clause of the Civil Service Commission (CSC). Jones was later reprimanded. Jones petitioned the reprimand.
At the appeal hearing, the hearing officer ruled that Jones’s appeal should be granted and his reprimand be withdrawn because Jones did not violate the NOPD rules. However, the CSC denied Jones’s appeal and reissued an edited reprimand which removed all language related to Rule 4 and included violations under CSC Rule IX §1.1. The revised reprimand stated Jones’s prevented the NOPD from evaluating whether a sexual assault occurred because he failed to report the incident to the sex crimes/sexual assault unit.
Jones asserted the CSC was not authorized to order the NOPD to edit the reprimand letter and add a new rule and violation because this was a denial of his right to due process. Thus, Jones was not given adequate notice to defend himself from the new allegations. According to Louisiana Constitution, Article 10, § 8, a permanent state or city employee cannot be disciplined without written notice. A state employee disciplined by an appointing authority can appeal their case to the CSC. The Appointing Authority must also show proof their actions were fair and justified. Cure v. Dept. of Police, 964 So.2d 1093(La. Ct. App. 4 Cir. 2007).
The CSC found the NOPD did prove that Jones’ failure to report the alleged sexual assault to the PIB was a failure to perform his duty as an officer, which consequently harmed the efficiency of the appointing authority. However, at the hearing, it was shown Jones’s actions conformed with Rule 4, which was the initial cause of the reprimand. The hearing officer and the CSC found that the NOPD failed to meet their burden of proof regarding Rule 4, Performance of Duty. Jones disputed all of the CSC’s findings and sought an appeal.
The appeals court reasoned there was no rational basis for CSC’s decision to order a new letter of reprimand which removed the language of Jones’s Rule 4 allegations. The appeals court further held the CSC decision and charge left Jones without an explanation for his alleged negligence or a legal remedy for the violation. In doing so, the appeals court held this was a clear abuse of discretion that exceeded the CSC’s power.
The appeals court found CSC was wrong in denying Jones’ appeal and the issuance of a revised letter of reprimand without giving him notice first. Accordingly, the appeals court ordered both reprimands to be withdrawn from Jones’ record.
Additional Sources: LAWRENCE JONES VERSUS DEPARTMENT OF POLICE
Written by Berniard Law Firm Blog Writer: Needum Lekia
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