The East Baton Rouge Metro Council will consider nearly doubling the amount of money a local law firm gets to represent the Baton Rouge Police chief in legal cases.
It’s the last item on the agenda for Wednesday, Aug. 11th, item 110. The chief is asking the council to increase the amount for legal representation from $78,000 a year up to $150,000 a year. That money is your tax dollars.
“We chose to be transparent and implement reform,” said BRPD Chief Murphy Paul.
That’s what Chief Paul explained to the metro council in February 2021 when he requested $52,000 more for his legal representation.
“Just about every month, there is an appeal before the civil service board based on discipline I’ve given. Since I’ve been here, there have been 65 cases I have heard where it was not sustained. Sustained violations that was heard, 90, so this firm, private firms have been representing me since 2018,” said Chief Paul.
For your understanding, the parish attorney’s office assigns a lawyer to the police department full-time. Currently, that is Deelee Morris. However, if a chief or the department were to need council outside the appointed lawyer, they can go to private firms, hire an attorney and pay them separately. The parish attorney’s representative does not cost additional money.
When the department is investigating an officer, that officer does have the right to appeal the chief’s discipline. They do that before the Municipal Fire and Police Civil Service Board. A chief can hire a private lawyer to represent him and the department at the civil service board. In fact, there’s money set aside for that very reason in the annual budget.
Unfiltered with Kiran went digging through the budgets going back to 2009. Back then, $33,000 a year was designated for “legal services in the representation of the chief of police in all matters before the municipal fire and police civil service board.”
In 2010, it went up to $39,000. For the next 9 years, the budget remained at $39,000 a year for any chief to use and former BRPD police chiefs said they did use outside council to represent them as well during civil service hearings but they cannot remember ever having to ask for more than what was already budgeted.
Then in 2020, while Murphy Paul was the chief, the budget doubled and was not to exceed $78,000 a year.
James Raines & Leo Hamilton from the Breazeale, Sachse and Wilson law firm in Baton Rouge represent the chief in all matters when it comes to discipline for officers.
Earlier this year in February, the chief asked for the amount to be increased from $78,000 to about $130,000 as the maximum. That raised some questions from the public and council members.
“I just was wondering if we can get some type of inclination or inkling of why such a large increase? Are there more court cases that are coming up or what is it that’s causing this increase?” asked a lady from the public attending the February council meeting.
“My question is why do we have an outside council as opposed to inside council? Seems like….it traditionally has been a function of your office (speaking to the Parish Attorney’s Office) and I understand going to outside council for specific cases and that sort of thing but to totally farm out this function to outside council, seems like this would be Deelee’s position and what she would normally do,” said EBR Councilman Dwight Hudson.
“Yeah, this is at the request of the chief so this is accommodating the chief and his request that he wanted separate council to handle the discipline as opposed to having Deelee who is his general council, who handles all matters Baton Rouge Police, and is involved in counseling him with certain situation dealing with hiring and firing but he specifically requested and I wish he was here to provide the information but he specifically requested to have and this council and I accommodated him knowing that this amount would come out of his budget,” said Parish Attorney’s Andy Dotson.
Dotson helped to answer questions until the chief was asked to show up and answer council members’ questions.
“I apologize for not being here. I was in the midst of being briefed on a sensitive investigation that I’m not able to speak on publicly at this time,” said Chief Paul. “When an employee appeals that, they represent me before the civil service board or any other hearings related to that. For example, I’ve been…there have injunctions filed against me. They represent me on injunctions as well. I learned that chiefs prior to me also had outside councils so I went to the parish attorney’s office and asked if I could do what former chiefs had done and hire outside council to represent me.”
Former chiefs said they purposely did their best to avoid appeal hearings and work out the discipline between the union and the officer. Civil service hearings were saved for the worst of the worst cases according to them. Plus, the former chiefs added that they never had a need for two attorneys to represent them.
Now, the chief is asking for an increase to $150,000.
“It is something that he inherited and I think as the chief who’s been through some of the most uncommon situations probably in the history of Baton Rouge, I think he deserves to choose legal representation,” said EBR Councilwoman Chauna Banks-Daniel.
So Unfiltered with Kiran went digging into all the city’s expenditures for this specific law firm.
Going back to 2018, there have been 204 transactions with the firm’s total amount billed coming out to be $217,084. Of that amount, about $25,000 in checks have not cleared just yet.
As for the amount that was inherited, the department spent $17,500 on legal fees against Blaine Salamoni and Howie Lake in 2018 and 2019.
Even if that amount is removed from what records show the law firm is owed, the chief has still allegedly spent $199,584 since 2020. That already exceeds the maximum allowed be it $78,000, $130,000 or even what’s he’s requesting now at $150,000.
“This isn’t uncommon. I think it happens a lot of times in high profile litigations and without a doubt, since you been here, everything seem to have been, you inherited a lot of high profile,” said Banks-Daniel.
In looking through the charges from the law firm for specific officers, many of those cases are while Paul has been the chief. They were not inherited. A prime example is Siya Creel, the vice president of the police union.
Creel interviewed with Unfiltered with Kiran in July 2020 over informational billboards the union was putting up around Baton Rouge. Not even two weeks later, the department launched an internal affairs investigation. While the administration claimed Creel violated specific policies —- conduct unbecoming of an officer, unauthorized public statements and carrying out orders, it was more than obvious why he was really under investigation.
The department claimed Creel needed prior authorization from the chief to interview with the media. Never before has a union leader needed permission to interview because the union is a separate entity from the police department. Then they claimed he presented himself as a police officer by wearing uniform pants, his badge and gun. Creel wore a Disney polo shirt with bicycle uniformed pants and by their own policy, even when off-duty, officers are required to carry their gun and badge as long as they are within city limits, which Creel was at the time of his interview. Plus, in the past, union leaders have done interviews with full uniforms and their badge and guns on and never has any internal affairs investigation popped up.
Then there was the social media violation because the interview was posted to YouTube, but he didn’t post it so how did he violate the policy?
All three violations were sustained and Creel was fired over that one interview.
He appealed his termination before the civil service board, a hearing that went well into the early morning hours of the next day. At that hearing, the word “Kiran” was used 41 times and the word “YouTube” used 30 times but Raines and Hamilton defended the chief that Creel violated policy and that’s why he was fired.
In the end, the board unanimously decided Creel was wrongfully terminated and he was given his job back.
For that one case against Creel, the private law firm 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.
Then there’s the case against Sgt. John Dauthier. He’s the officer who requested an investigation into the chief. He spent the next several months fighting the chief’s suspension and demotion.
It was all over officers accidently going to the wrong home based on the information they had at the time and pulling a woman out of her home. In the end, the appeal board reversed his demotion and reduced his suspension from 60 days to 39 days.
Dauthier’s defense cost taxpayers $6,415.46 so far. That does not even include the nearly 13 hour long appeal hearing that the firm has yet to bill the city so expect that number to increase.
Those are two cases where the chief’s attorneys defended him only to lose the cases.
The third example is Officer Michelle Patterson, who was fired in 2018 and recently rehired, the subject of a separate Unfiltered with Kiran investigation.
Not only is she back patrolling she streets, she was given the rank of corporal that you get after working at the department for six years since she started in 2015, but she’s also been given back pay to the day she was fired.
Multiple sources said the chief, Patterson and Patterson’s brother-in-law Clay Young, who himself has a nearly $200,000 contract to manage BRPD’s Facebook page, had a private meeting to work out the details of her return. Multiple sources also said attorneys for Patterson nor the chief were at that meeting. But still, the firm will be paid $6,862.50 for defending the chief against Patterson.
The examples go on and on but the chief told the metro council in February, he’s changing the culture of the department.
“Changing culture is hard. A lot of the discipline I have given, it’s appealed,” said Chief Paul.
“When we’re talking about exceeding $80,000 for a calendar year for one service, I think we have to start asking the question. I understand if it’s not Deelee or if you need an additional person or whatever, but it may make more sense financially to bring it back in house,” said Dwight Hudson.
That discussion is from February when the chief was asking for an increase to $130,000. Councilman Hudson asked why the chief could not use Deelee Morris, who is assigned to represent the police department from the parish attorney’s office. The chief explained she already had a lot on her plate.
“They take about 1,400 public records requests a year, 1,400. We get a lot of public records requests,” said Chief Paul. “You could imagine every email that Deelee Morris has to go through and say, ‘Well, this is legal. This is related to a case. This is client-attorney privilege.’ She has to go through every single one of them. That is policing in Baton Rouge today and I get public records request like that. I spent today going through my emails before it goes out in the public sitting down as the chief of police because O want to know every email that’s going out for public consumption, what I said, who I talked to so I can be prepared. That is what the parish attorney’s office has to do every week on my emails just so you know.”
“My concern is if we continue down this road, at some point, we’re going to be spending $130,000 in a calendar year on something that could be done in house for much cheaper,” said Hudson.
Now, the chief is asking to amend the amount not to exceed $150,000 in a year for his legal representation.
According to the city parish’s own records, Breazeale, Sachse and Wilson has billed taxpayers more than 200 times for a total of $217,084. The parish attorney’s office said that money comes out of the police department’s fund.
Given that an officer’s starting pay at BRPD is $33,000 and the shortage of officers, the amount paid for the chief’s private legal representation is enough to hire 6.5 new police officers.
Unfiltered with Kiran tried to find the signed contract from February where the maximum amount increased to $130,000 but as of now, no word if it was ever signed or not. Had it been, the verbiage on the metro agenda should read that the chief is asking for the amount to be increased from $130,000 to $150,000. Instead, as of now, it reads he’s asking for an increase from the present $78,000 a year for legal representation to $150,000 a year.
The item is the last thing on Wednesday night’s agenda before the East Baton Rouge Metro Council and the public does have a right to speak up on it.