It was a big win for a former Baton Rouge Police officer in district court on Tuesday, Aug. 17, 2021.
Siya Creel’s 87-day suspension was reversed.
Creel was the vice-president of the Baton Rouge Union and a BRPD officer who was fired just before Christmas 2020 after an interview with Unfiltered with Kiran in July 2020 on informational billboards in Baton Rouge. Creel interviewed in his role as a union leader for the billboards the union was paying for to inform Baton Rougeons on the increase in crime.
Not even two weeks after the interview, BRPD launched an internal affairs investigation into Creel for allegedly violating three policies: conduct unbecoming of an officer, unauthorized public statements and carrying out orders for social media.
However, the department ended up firing Creel for an email he sent to his personal address from his work email address in December 2020, right as Creel was in the middle of fighting cancer.
That’s what Creel and his lawyer Jill Craft took before the Municipal Fire & Civil Service Board saying the law clearly reads an officer must have notice on what he/she is being terminated for and then given enough time to respond to the notice. In this case however, the two claimed that did not happen.
The board did overturn the chief’s termination but ended up giving Creel an 87-suspension instead. That suspension was unpaid.
Today in 19th JDC, Judge Chip Moore reversed the board’s decision and reinstated Creel to his employment status and awarded back pay.
Creel no longer works for BRPD. After the board reversed his termination, Creel ended up turning in his resignation letter saying he could no longer work in the “hostile work environment.”
Now, Creel will be paid for the 87 days and get any due benefits. Most importantly though, Creel’s record is now clean. Creel still has a pending case in federal court.
“I really feel as if my career was stolen and my free speech was prevented because he didn’t like the message. Now look at the crime rate and loss of all the officers,” said Creel. “I have always felt this was an attack on the union and myself as a union leader. I am excited to say I have been cleared and this was a big win for the local Baton Rouge Police Union. I am sad I lost my career as a police officer, and I couldn’t see a way forward under this administration with Murphy Paul as Chief. I hope the chief will work with the current union leaders to make BRPD a better department.”
Judge Moore’s ruling was very clear in the Municipal Fire & Police Civil Service Board’s role saying the board’s ruling is equivalent to and carries the same weight as a trial court’s ruling.
The board is supposed to be unbiased towards the officer and BRPD. Both parties present all their evidence and then the board is to independently determine if the acting authority, in this particular case, the chief, acted in bad faith or without cause when issuing his discipline.
If the evidence shows the officer was in the wrong and the chief’s discipline is deemed right, the board is to uphold the chief’s discipline or modify it if they choose. However, if there is no basis for the chief’s discipline, the board “must order the employee’s reinstatement or reemployment on a retroactive basis.”
If the board does not follow the above, the board’s decision is considered to be based on random choice or personal whim rather than on a specific reason or system, or arbitrary. It’s also considered to be based on mood or behavioral changes, or capricious.
That’s exactly what Creel & Craft argued before Judge Moore saying the board based their 87-day suspension on their own opinions and not based on the officer’s rights or laws.
“Creel maintains on appeal that the decision not to immediately reinstate his employment with the BRPD but instead ordering his suspension was manifestly erroneous, arbitrary and capricious.
It’s why Judge Moore reversed the board’s decision clearing Creel’s name and record if he were to ever seek employment in law enforcement again.
“We would like to congratulate Siya Creel and send thanks to the 19th JDC today on the news of this landmark case. This ruling will affect other officer appeals currently in process and will forever change the manner of employee notifications for the BRPD. The Baton Rouge Municipal Fire & Police Civil Service Board hopes that we can truly learn a lesson or two from this case (and others) and we hope to do better in the future,” said chairman of the Municipal Fire & Police Civil Service Board Rob Moruzzi.
Another officer currently has a similar appeal pending in district court.
Despite the board given the same level of authority as a trial court, specific board members have said during civil service meetings that their decisions should not be based on whether an officer will appeal their decision to the district court. That’s after the board’s attorney advises members of what the law says and what the officer’s rights are.
What is the purpose of an officer, his/her lawyer, the chief and his lawyers spending 12+ hours arguing before the board if the board members’ votes will be based on their personal opinions rather than if laws were actually violated? It’s a waste of tax dollars when the chief is spending the city’s money on two private lawyers for half the day. That doesn’t even include the cost to prepare for the hearing and prepare witnesses. It’s also a waste of money for the officer, who has to pay out of pocket usually for his/her lawyer during the civil service board hearings.
For that one case against Creel, the private law firm Breazeale, Sachse and Wilson, billed city police $34,262.50, that is nearly half of the amount designated for the entire year for legal representation for the chief. According to 2018 statistics, the starting pay for a rookie officer with Baton Rouge Police is $33,000.
Proof that the board doesn’t necessarily look at whether the officer violated any laws is in the case of Sgt. John Dauthier. He went before the civil service board last month fighting the chief’s demotion in rank and 60-day suspension for accidentally going to the wrong home and pulling a pregnant woman out of her home after he and his officers were given misleading information.
Initially, BRPD said Dauthier violated three policies. Then, they increased it to six policy violations after the officer had his hearing to defend himself against the original three policies.
“Judge Moore’s ruling is consistent with the law and with what my client has argued to the board and the court in his pending appeals. Though it is only one of a number of reasons we appealed the findings of the civil service board, the pre-disciplinary notices issued to Sgt. Dauthier were constitutionally defective in both cases. The department’s practice seems to be to simply recite facts, without explaining specifically what that misconduct is, and then arbitrarily finding the employee violated whatever policy(s) it finds convenient,” said Ivey.
Plus, Ivey said his client even notified the chief in May 2021 that he was not given enough notice on all alleged policy violations and time to respond to them.
“It is concerning that the department was unaware that its pre-disciplinary notice was constitutionally defective. The department’s team of attorneys had the benefit of a 19th JDC decision, affirmed by the First Circuit in November of 2020, namely Procell v City of Baker, but seemed to have missed it. Beyond that, they were put on notice by my client himself in May of 2021,” said Ivey.
After 13+ hours, the board decided to overturn the demotion and restore his rank to sergeant, but chose to give him a 39-day suspension. That decision was based on specific board members not liking the idea that Dauthier left a woman in handcuffs for an extra minute while he explained why officers made a mistake in knocking on her door. He repeatedly told board members he wanted to make sure she listened to him apologize because she was unruly in the very beginning. Plus, he wrote down his name, badge number and even gave her the phone number to internal affairs in case she wanted to file a complaint.
There is no written policy on how long an officer is to leave someone in handcuffs after they realize they have the wrong person detained. Still though, specific board members said they wanted to make sure Dauthier never made that mistake again and believed he should be suspended not 1 day, 5 days or even two weeks, but 39 days because he was on his 39th day of suspension the day they had the civil service hearing. So for leaving a female who cursed out officers and was not complying with any of the officers’ requests in handcuffs for an additional minute while he explained the mistake that was made, Dauthier needed to lose out financially for 39 days and have a permanent record on his file. That decision was based on specific board members’ personal opinions and not based on whether Dauthier violated any policies or laws.
It’s why Dauthier’s lawyer Cliff Ivey said they will be appealing the board’s discipline to the 19th JDC. Plus, Dauthier has an additional pending appeal that has to do with the board upholding the chief’s claim that Dauthier was “shirking duties,” something that is now on his record.
Also, Louisiana state law says this could potentially open some board members to liabilities in the future or recalls with the required number of signatures. The law reads, “Any member of a board shall be liable to removal from office by judgement of the district court of his domicile for high crimes and misdemeanors in office, incompetency, corruption, favoritism, extortion, oppression in office, gross misconduct, or habitual drunkenness.”
Plus, every time the chief disciplines an officer and that officer appeals it before the civil service board, the chief is spending the city’s money on his two lawyers.
The civil service hearing for Creel lasted well into the morning going on for nearly 14 hours before they decided on the 87-day suspension. The appeal hearing for Dauthier lasted 13 hours.
Monday, Aug. 23rd is another appeal hearing for another officer, Ken Camallo. He is appealing a rare discipline, three separate suspensions for three different policy violations.