Louisiana State Police Trooper Scott Lopez.
As we did our first “wham bam, thank you ma’am” feature on Louisiana State Police (LSP) last week (in which we essentially reinforced AP reporter Jim Mustian’s feature), we indicated that we hoped to have our own, original LSP feature out early this week.
It has taken us some time to author this feature because it entails a lawsuit we filed against LSP earlier today, Tuesday, April 5, 2022. Anyone is welcome to read the lawsuit in its entirety, and we are going to present its highlights below complete with hyperlinks to documents and we’ll include one video to support a statement in the litigation since this is a video blog after all:
We stressed that we broke the Ronald Greene matter on September 10, 2020.
We stressed that, prior to our breaking of the Ronald Greene feature, obtaining public records from LSP (upon which we rely heavily to substantiate allegations with which we are presented entailing LSP Trooper conduct) was not overly problematic. We emphasized that, after our September 10, 2020 Ronald Greene feature, however, obtaining public records from LSP became a much harder uphill climb.
We stressed the fact that LSP’s then-legal counsel, Faye Morrison, fought us tooth and nail on obtaining records pertaining to what troopers were reporting to us entailing the apparent first-ever hiring of a civilian pilot in LSP’s Air Support Unit. Active troopers told us that such a hiring would constitute a direct violation of LSP’s hiring policy entailing pilots.
We stressed in the lawsuit that the then-Head of LSP Crisis Response, Mark Morrison (husband of then-legal counsel Faye Morrison), stated that only troopers could be considered for pilot positions. As evidenced by the preceding link, we stressed that Morrison made that statement to the Louisiana State Police Commission on November 8, 2018.
We stressed in the lawsuit that Faye Morrison went so far as to decline our right to examine even the mere posting of the position! We were obviously flabbergasted that Morrison would even suggest that a posting of a position was not public record. Nevertheless, on January 27, 2021, that’s exactly what she did.
We stressed that, on April 21, 2021, again responding to frustrated troopers who had just learned of the promotion of then-Captain Chris Eskew to Lt. Colonel, and those troopers’ anger at what they contended was yet more rewarding of bad behavior in that they claimed that Eskew was disciplined for his theft of cable/satellite television services (albeit in 2001), we made public records request for Eskew’s disciplinary file.
Faye Morrison was incredulous that we’d made the public records request, and she responded the next day, April 22, 2021, by indicating that Eskew’s “right to privacy” exceeded the public’s “right to know” entailing Eskew’s past discipline.
For reasons which will become obvious shortly, we want to stress Morrison’s emphasis on the fact LSP does not “consider” Eskew’s documents to be public. From her email:
Under these circumstances, Louisiana State Police considers LTC Eskew’s privacy interest in those documents outweighs the public’s interest in them.
Once litigation was threatened, Morrison continued to stand by her statement that Eskew’s right to privacy exceeded the public’s right to know, but she nevertheless, on Friday, April 30, 2021, did ultimately release documentation of Eskew’s 44-hour suspension for cable/satellite television theft.
We focused in the lawsuit on the fact that Lt. Col. and Chief of Staff Doug Cain is widely stated to have also been in the “ring” of troopers stealing satellite/cable television reception; however, as we have reported, notwithstanding numerous troopers’ adamant statements of Cain’s alleged theft, Cain has emphatically denied any involvement. Those who tipped us off on Cain’s alleged involvement in the theft ring said Cain escaped discipline because he was “guided” to take a hiatus from LSP and return once all the cable television theft scandal had subsided.
Interestingly enough, and as we make known in the suit, Cain did in fact take an LSP hiatus from October 29, 2000 to April 16, 2001. Furthermore, as we detail in the lawsuit, Cain had gotten wind of our public records request on him and tried to nip it in the bud and even stated that the cable television theft was, “in 1998, long before I departed LSP.”
Well, all we can say is that, as evidenced by the Eskew link above, Eskew received a 44-hour suspension on January 19, 2001, right in the middle of Cain’s hiatus! Further, six days later, on January 25, 2001, LSP trooper John Cannon (who himself has a very interesting history with LSP), was also disciplined for theft of cable/satellite theft and was suspended for 80 hours for his theft. Cain maintains that the timing of his hiatus from LSP was “pure coincidence” and in no way connected to the cable/television theft investigations.
The preceding material was meant to alert the court of just how difficult it has become to obtain public records since our Ronald Greene feature. We were, in essence, laying the foundation, for our current frustration entailing a public records request of LSP for which we have been thwarted.
We informed the court about our feature of September 3, 2021 focusing on LSP Trooper Scott Lopez allegedly telling the driver of a truck traveling down the road on which Lopez lives, “You better not go down my road again if you know what’s good for you!” We further focused on the fact that the owner of the truck, Billy Broussard, filed a complaint on Lopez on November 21, 2021. We stressed that Col. Davis encouraged the filing of such complaints during a press conference of September 10, 2021 which Sound Off Louisiana attended and videotaped and which Broussard watched.
We also indicated that Lopez attended the January 6, 2022 St. Martin Parish Planning and Zoning meeting and literally took over the meeting. Lopez also repeatedly stated to the Commission members that Broussard had “acted illegally,” and that prompted Broussard to file a second complaint on Lopez with LSP on January 24, 2022.
Also as a result of Lopez’s actions on January 6, 2022, we requested of LSP his entire personnel file the next day, January 7, 2022. After a protracted period that included one email seeking an update on when we would receive the documentation and another one the following week indicating the “redacting process had commenced,” we finally obtained Lopez’s personnel file; however, as is evident to anyone who clicks on the prior link, 175 of the of the 276 pages are fully (as in 100%) redacted!
About the only thing of any substance revealed in Lopez’s personnel file is the fact that Lopez failed to detect drugs in the back seat of his unit when he turned it in for the day of April 23, 2018. That fact is reflected in an “incident report” which isn’t even signed nor dated by ANYBODY!
Once we obtained the above-referenced personnel file, we made a subsequent request for Lopez’s “disciplinary file only.” On Friday, March 18, 2022, LSP Captain Nick Manale responded to us that Lopez had no “sustained” discipline.
Let us now provide today’s clip, which is comprised of a two-minute video of the March 22, 2022 House Oversight Committee on the Death of Ronald Greene wherein Lt. Col. Cain explains what it means for an investigation not to result in “sustained” discipline:
March 22, 2022: LSP Chief of Staff provides clarity on what it means for an investigation not to result in “sustained” discipline.
Current LSP Counsel Gail Holland followed up Minale’s email with a letter dated March 24, 2022 which revealed the fact that Lopez has two letters of counseling in his file. From her letter:
although Trooper Lopez does have two (2) letters of counseling in his file, pursuant to Louisiana State Police Commission Rule 12.9, those letters of counseling are not considered discipline and are not considered “public.”
There goes that word “considered” again, and we take STRONG, STRONG exception to the word “considered.” LSP seems to believe that, if the agency deems a document not to be “public,” that the public should simply take that as a mandate from God and move on! We decided that we’re simply not “moving on” in this instance and thus filed the subject lawsuit.
We find it incredibly galling that the Louisiana State Police Commission (LSPC) could set a rule that is completely contrary to public policy and take an action that is in direct contradiction to the spirit of the Louisiana’s Legislature’s intent on public records laws and prior rulings by the Louisiana State Supreme Court.
Our suit elaborates on a number of instances in which we have exposed Louisiana State Police Commission embarrassments to Louisiana citizens, and the fact that we believe, by issuing rules such as Rule 12.9, the LSPC is complicit in the kind of atrocities which we outline at the outset of the lawsuit.
Here’s a small segment from the suit where we voice our frustration:
Petitioner has produced numerous features on the LSPC and its various members’ escapades to include Petitioner videotaping two (2) members checking into a swank hotel shortly after a meeting of the LSPC (they both resigned from the LSPC within days, one at the urging of then-Col. Kevin Reeves, and one at the urging of Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards). Another feature entails one member openly bragging of backing a racing team driving across the U. S. at speeds of 130 MPH+ and having ten (10) license plates in the trunk of the vehicle to change out a plate if the car’s plate was called out over the team’s hidden-in-dashboard police scanner. Another recent feature focused on the fact that another LSPC member is presently under investigation for alleged improprieties entailing off duty assignments with the New Orleans Police Department.
One retired trooper, Leon “Bucky” Millet, has indicated that LSPC was set up, “by State Police, for the benefit of State Police,” and that the LSPC serves almost exclusively to protect troopers at the expense of providing any protection whatsoever to Louisiana taxpayers. He has openly called for the LSPC to be abolished.
Another veteran law enforcement official and use-of-force expert, Lloyd Grafton, himself a former member of the LSPC who resigned in frustration at the, “total lack of integrity on the Louisiana State Police Commission,” has also called for the LSPC to be abolished, and he has placed that request in writing among his suggestions for LSP enhancements to the Louisiana State Senate Committee on the Oversight of Louisiana State Police.
Calls for abolishing the LSPC have intensified and gained momentum as evidenced by State Sen. Cleo Fields (D-Baton Rouge) sponsoring a bill (SB-239) in the 2022 Regular Session of the Legislature, which requires a Constitutional Amendment but would, if passed, abolish the LSPC.
Petitioner asserts that, by enacting rules such as Rule 12.9, the LSPC is complicit in LSP’s extensive efforts to shield the public from potentially problematic troopers who patrol Louisiana’s roadways.
Petitioner further asserts that it is against public policy and the public’s right to know for the LSPC, particularly given its historical conduct by individual members and total lack of accountability to and protection of the public, to appoint itself as a body which can make declarations of what is public record and what is not. Were other state governmental agencies afforded such power and it go unchallenged, then it would not be long before every state agency would “declare” something not a public record and thus completely obliterate Louisiana citizens’ rights to examine public documents!
Petitioner asserts that the LSPC has overplayed its authority by implementing LSPC Rule 12.9 and that it its rule is unequivocally inconsistent with the Louisiana Supreme Court’s ruling which plainly asserts the most liberal interpretation of public records such that, if any doubt may exist, the doubt must be resolved consistent with the public’s right to see.
Petitioner is of the belief that the public’s right to know entailing Trooper Lopez’s letters of counseling, and potentially other redacted material in response to his public records request of January 7, 2022, exceed any “privacy interest” Trooper Lopez has. Further, an LSP Rule certainly does not constitute a statute, and Petitioner asserts that, by denying the public access to records to the degree that LSP does, LSP has fostered the proliferation of rogue actions such as that of the troopers involved in the Ronald Greene in-custody death and the egregious language contained in the arrest and apprehension of Antonio Harris.
Petitioner assets that is the rationale behind why the Louisiana Supreme Court has ruled that public records requests should always be “construed liberally in favor of free and unrestricted access to the records, and that access can be denied only when a law, specifically, and unequivocally, provides otherwise……Whenever there is doubt as to whether the public has the right of access to certain records, the doubt must be resolved in favor of the public’s right to see.” Title research Corp. v. Rausch, 450 So.2nd 933, 936 (La. 1984).
In the present instance, LSP has declined to cite a statute and instead merely references an LSPC Rule which falls woefully short of a Louisiana statute as justification for not releasing the letters of counseling applicable for Trooper Lopez.
At the aforementioned March 22, 2022 meeting of the Louisiana House Oversight Committee on the LSP In-Custody Death of Ronald Greene, virtually every member of the Committee expressed anger and frustration at the “lack of transparency” that was on full display at the Committee hearing. Petitioner asserts that those Committee Members are now enduring what Petitioner has been subjected to for years.
For the foregoing reasons, Petitioner requests that this Honorable Court conduct an examination in camera of the 175 fully-redacted pages submitted to him by LSP in response to his public records request and make a determination of which, if any, pages should be un-redacted and be made available to Petitioner. Specifically, Petitioner seeks for this Honorable Court to make a determination as to whether Trooper Lopez’s “privacy interest” in any redacted documents exceeds the public’s right to know entailing those 175 fully-redacted pages.
So, in the words of the Chairman of the House Oversight Committee on the Death of Ronald Greene, Rep. Tanner Magee, to LSP Chief of Staff Doug Cain, “If we trusted you, we wouldn’t be here!” In our case, we share Magee’s distrust regarding the prospect that documentation on Lopez may be withheld from us to shield the public from obtaining knowledge that it likely may benefit from.
Thus, at a minimum, we want another set of eyes (in this case, State District Judge Don Johnson, since he is the one who drew the case) examining these 175 pages (most especially the letters of counseling) to see if he deems any of them as being worthy of public release. We can live with whatever decision he makes and, at the end of the day, we can feel comfortable that we did all we could possibly do to try and protect the public’s right to know by doing our best to have a non-LSP set of eyes at least examine them.
Obviously, we will update our subscribers and site visitors as this litigation progresses, and now everyone knows what we referenced when we disclosed last week that we’d have our own original LSP feature out early this week!
Let us conclude this feature with an apology to the troopers who reported to us about Eskew’s promotion and their frustration entailing same and the fact that we let reporting on it “slip through the cracks” until now. As many of our blog followers will recall, Sound Off Louisiana founder Robert Burns knew at the time he was making the requests that his mother would be passing away within days. Accordingly, this entire blog and all efforts at public records requests associated with it took a back seat during that timeframe. We trust those troopers understand how the Eskew matter just fell through the cracks during that particularly stressful time in Burns’ life.
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.