In the most recent campaign for Mayor-President of East Baton Rouge Parish, both finalists, Democratic incumbent Sharon Weston Broome and Republican challenger Steve Carter, readily acknowledged that Baton Rouge has a very serious problem entailing crime. They differed only upon the root cause of that crime problem with Broome blaming Covid-19 and stating other areas are experiencing similar crime problems as a result of the pandemic, while Carter indicated the city suffers from low police officer morale and inadequate pay for the city’s police officers.
During recent contract negotiations between the Baton Rouge Police Department (BRPD) union and the Broome administration, the union opted to purchase billboard ads which officials within the Broome administration, most notably BRPD Chief Murphy Paul, viewed with disdain.
Those billboards were the subject of an interview that police officer union representative Siya Creel conducted with blogger (and former renowned WAFB – Channel 9 in Baton Rouge – investigative reporter) Kiran Chawla. Let’s take just a few short minutes to view the interview between Creel and Chawla:
Kiran Chawla’s July 15, 2020 interview with BRPD union representative Siya Creel regarding billboard ads taken out by the union during contract negotiations with the Broome administration.
It is abundantly apparent, at least judging by this December 5, 2020 lawsuit filed by Creel against the BRPD and Paul individually, that the billboards touched a nerve with Paul. From the lawsuit:
On August 13, 2020, Mr. Creel, as Vice President of the Union, personally met with the defendant, through Mayor Weston Broome to further the Union negotiations with the defendant. The parties were unable to agree on salient terms, including pay increases for officers, promotions, and disciplinary matters. However, immediately prior to the last meeting between defendant and Mr. Creel, defendant notified Mr. Creel that he was required to attend a meeting with BRPD Internal Affairs to discuss a potential disciplinary matter, the substance of which defendant refused to then inform Mr. Creel. Mr. Creel, who had never been the subject of any Internal Affairs investigation or disciplinary matter was immediately concerned the sudden notification of an IA interview was designed to chill Mr. Creel’s speech in his capacity as Union Vice President and to illegally interfere with the contract negotiations.
Mr. Creel was advised he was being investigated for Conduct Unbecoming an Officer, Unauthorized Statements, and alleged violation of the “Social Media Policy.”
He was being investigated as a result of an interview Mr. Creel gave regarding the Union activities, including the Union’s placement of billboards in the City of Baton Rouge and an interview Mr. Creel, in his capacity as Vice President of the Baton Rouge Union of Police, gave to reporter and media blogger Kiran Chawla for her public information blog posted on YouTube and Facebook regarding the Union’s activities, including the creation and posting of the billboards.
During the IA interview, Mr. Creel correctly refused to answer questions relating to his and the Union’s activities at which time he was specifically threatened by defendant that his refusal to answer those questions regarding his Union participation and the activities of the Union were grounds for disciplinary action, including termination. Following the IA interview, counsel for Mr. Creel sent the attached email to the defendant formally protesting the repeated inquiries into Union activities and, further, that the IA interview interfered with Mr. Creel’s rights under the United States and Louisiana Constitutions as it related to his free speech and association, and likely constituted a violation of Federal and Louisiana labor laws.
On November 12, 2020, Petitioner attended a predisciplinary “hearing.”……..Petitioner specifically advised the defendants he had requested use of his sick and annual leave starting the following Monday, November 16, 2020, to undergo intensive chemotherapy and radiation therapy as all prior attempts at cancer treatment had been proving ineffective.
Defendants then pronounced Petitioner “guilty” of allegedly violating the BRPD “media policy” because Petitioner gave the interview to media regarding union activities and, specifically,
the union placement of the billboards, conduct unbecoming an officer presumably for the same reason, and violating orders also presumably for the same reason.
Petitioner advised defendants, through Internal Affairs Investigator Angelloz that he could not talk right then as he was receiving his chemotherapy and directed them to his counsel. In the interim, Petitioner’s counsel sent a letter to defendant Paul on November 17, 2020, by fax, again requesting accommodation for his disability with cancer, including that defendants leave Petitioner alone so he can receive the life-saving treatment.
During the week of November 17, 2020, the Union bought and began displaying another round of billboards. The latest such billboard questioned the leadership of the BR.PD and Petitioner
contends it is now an additional reason for the escalation of harassment and threats directed toward him designed to silence and/or chill the free speech rights of Petitioner and the union.
On December 1, 2020, Petitioner attempted to return to work from his sick leave, having never received any written notice of administrative leave or further directives. Shortly after his
arrival at work, defendants, through Internal Affairs officer Orscini Beard approached Petitioner, removed from Petitioner all of his BRPD-issued equipment and handed Petitioner a back-dated, clearly altered, whited-out, and nonsensical notice of administrative 1eave purportedly bearing the date of November 17, 2020.
This time when Petitioner asked defendants why he was on administrative leave, defendants told Petitioner it was because he had shown up at work on December 1, 2020. In other
words, defendants were purporting to place Petitioner on administrative leave effective November 17, 2020, for Petitioner’s prospective return to work on December 1, 2020. A copy of the backdated, altered notice is attached hereto and made part hereof.
Petitioner also shows that the Baton Rouge Union of Police President is also facing “charges” by these defendants for the purported reason that he, along with Petitioner and the Union
leadership, did not attend a meeting with defendant Paul to discuss union activities. As with Petitioner, the Union President, having been adjudged “guilty” by defendant Paul, has yet to be told what his “punishment” will be.
Petitioners submits that defendants’ actions set forth herein, specifically including inquiring into and proposing to punish Mr. Creel for Mr. Creel’s Union activities and those of the Union, violate his clearly established rights of Free Speech and Association under the I st Amendment to the United States Constitution, La. Const. Art. 1, Section 7 (Freedom of Expression) and Section 9 (Right of Assembly and Petition).
As is evidenced by the final page of the linked lawsuit above, service was perfected on December 10, 2020. Five days later, on December 15, 2020, Paul fired Creel. Here’s WAFB’s feature entailing Creel’s firing:
12/15/20 airing of WAFB’s feature entailing Creel’s firing.
Reaction to Creel’s firing was quick and swift on a number of fronts. First, let’s view WAFB’s follow-up feature of 12/16/20:
WAFB’s follow-up feature of 12/16/20 entailing blowback after Creel’s firing by BRPD Chief Murphy Paul.
Meanwhile, Chawla has not been shy on words as clearly depicted on her Facebook posts on the whole incident, to wit:
WOWI’ve kept my mouth shut for so very long but enough is enough. The officer who interviewed with me on the informational billboards in Baton Rouge was just fired today for that very interview.You may remember the interview from my YouTube channel in July 2020 where Officer Siya Creel stepped up on behalf of the members of the police union to warn the public about the increase in violent crime in Baton Rouge. He was off-duty when he did that interview but within the city limits of Baton Rouge when he spoke in his capacity as the vice president of the union. BRPD’s own policy says if you’re off-duty but within city limits, you are to carry your gun on you. (They did investigate him for wearing his gun and badge during the interview).Since then, the department launched an internal affairs investigation into Officer Creel for that interview. Fast forward to today. The dept. fired him over it. His termination paperwork has our interview all over it. In my career, I have interviewed God knows how many union leaders both on and off the clock, in uniform, in plain clothes, with guns on or without a gun. Not once in the history of the Baton Rouge Union of Police has an executive member been disciplined for speaking to the media on behalf of its membership or the public even if it was adversarial to the sitting police chief. In fact, take a look at the pictures. One is the previous union president Bryan Taylor where that interview made air while he’s in uniform with a gun on. How is that any different that Creel interviewing? The difference is the police chief. This chief fired Creel to send a clear message — go against him and this is your fate.When I did that piece in July, I reached out to the police department and the mayor’s office for a response. I never got a call back from the police department but the mayor’s public information officer sure did send me a very long text message saying I was not media and that the mayor only did interviews with the media. So if the mayor says I’m not media, but her police chief fired an officer for speaking with the media, are you as confused as me? What did Officer Creel just get fired for then? He wasn’t fired for being a bad cop. He was fired for speaking up.I haven’t aired out any dirty laundry of what all happened but I will say I’ve been told to stop digging or reporting in Baton Rouge per my non-compete on my contract. So I can’t dig and put the facts out there or I’ll be sued, but where are the people whose job is to do exactly that? Stop being scared of this administration and do the public the service of putting the truth out there, the truth of what’s really happening behind the scenes since you won’t let me do it. After all, who are you working for?I’ll finish off by saying Officer Creel has been battling cancer for some time now and has been going through chemo. The department knew this and continuously added stress on his plate over that one interview for the past several months before ultimately firing him one week before Christmas. He has a wife and kids to support and still has to continue his chemo treatments. It’s why a GoFundMe has been set up for Officer Creel. https://gf.me/u/zcviqcKeep digging yourselves into a deeper hole BRPD….there’s really no coming back from what you have done but good try.“Social media policy is where the violation occurred,” said BRPD Sgt. L’Jean McKneely. “I’m not sure there was a social media policy in place at the time of those other union members when they did the interviews with tv. Now this interview was in a blog which put it in a different perspective and was placed on social media and not up for review through the normal channels that it would’ve possibly gone through.”Guess the chief chose not to interview. I posted my piece to YouTube, I did, NOT Siya Creel but somehow BRPD is claiming they fired him for a social media violation that his interview was on social media and not tv. Ummmm every tv interview ends up online and eventually posted to social media. Seriously? Union executive members have never needed permission from the chief to speak to media. They’re independent of the department. Then to go further and say it’ll always be enforced? You want me to spell out for you when it’ll actually be enforced and when it won’t? Say the truth: You didn’t like him speaking to the person who called you out repeatedly on your double standards for discipline for officers, you know the same person you said had to apologize to you in order for you to interview with me. Making up the rules and making up policies as you go just because you got hurt is no way to run a police department.
There’s not a whole lot we can add to Chawla’s spot-on statements above, but we do find one thing galling about McKneely’s commentary regarding bloggers. What he’s clearly suggesting is that, had this interview transpired with a mainstream media outlet, it likely would have never seen the light of day in the first place! We can’t help but be reminded of U. S. Congressman Cedric Richmond’s lambasting of bloggers at the meeting of the Baton Rouge Press Club of October 31, 2016. He (wrongly) believed that anyone in attendance at the meeting had to be a member of the mainstream media, so he felt comfortable letting loose on bloggers. When Sound Off Louisiana’s Robert Burns asked him for a specific example of irresponsible reporting by any Baton Rouge area blogger, Richmond could offer no such example; however, just like McKneely’s commentary above, he indicated that mainstream reporters are more responsible because they have to report to editors.
Well, soon-to-be-Cabinet-member Richmond, without some of those (in your mind) loose cannon bloggers, many folk may never be exposed to things like the fact that, while BRPD Chief Murphy Paul apparently isn’t going to tolerate commentary which may be deemed critical of him, his girlfriend, Lorre Claiborne, testified under oath that she would not hesitate to recommend Brett Tingle as a BRPD Officer! For that matter, many folk would never even know that Claiborne gave that testimony under oath notwithstanding Tingle’s using his state-issued cell phone to send texts such as, “I hate f@@king n@@***!” Why wouldn’t they know? Because there was not a single member of the mainstream media that Richmond, Paul, and McKneely deem to be so irreplaceable present at Tingle’s Federal civil trial, that’s why!
So, we’ll just conclude with a simple question: Is it the irresponsibility of bloggers that Paul, McKneely, and Richmond fear, or is it the fact that they may provide material the mainstream media may shy away from for fear of stepping on political toes? We firmly believe our subscribers know full well what the answer to that question is!
If you would like to be added to our Sound Off Louisiana email list to be notified of future posts, simply go to our home page and scroll to the bottom (mobile devices) or to the top of the right-hand column (desktops). Supply your email address within the subscribe box. You’ll then receive an automated email from Word Press, and all you have to do is click on the blue “confirm follow” bar contained within that email, and you’ll begin receiving great posts such as the preceding one above.