Disciplinary hearing for officers on leave over brave cave now set in Jan. 2024 after BRPD chief refused to reschedule

BATON ROUGE — A disciplinary hearing against the four BRPD officers named in the infamous brave cave investigation was scheduled for the day before BRPD Chief Murphy Paul is set to retire on Dec. 15, but has since been moved to Jan. 12, 2024.

It comes after the attorneys for the officers had a scheduling conflict but BRPD refused to reschedule. It’s why one of the lawyers representing two of the four officers said he had to take unprecedented measures and filed a temporary restraining (TRO) order in court. That TRO has since been granted and the pre-disciplinary hearing scheduled for Dec. 14 has now been postponed.

Pre-disciplinary hearing

Four Baton Rouge Police officers are on administrative leave while an internal affairs investigation is underway into their alleged roles of getting rid of evidence captured on a body camera. A fifth officer connected to the brave cave investigation is being protected under whistleblower status. Sources confirm he was granted whistleblower protection and a transfer to a specialized unit within BRPD in exchange for information, despite him allegedly being the one who tossed the body camera.

BRPD’s second-highest ranking officer on the force Deputy Chief Troy Lawrence Sr., Jesse Barcelona, Todd Thomas & Doug Chutz all turned themselves in to prison in Sept. 2023. They’re all charged with malfeasance in office while some are facing additional charges in connection to a missing body camera.

Their warrants had to do with a body camera that was illegally destroyed, thrown in a body of water. That body camera is said to have captured illegal activity of a possible beating at the hands of Baton Rouge Police Officers three years ago on Sept. 28, 2020.

disciplinary hearing brpd

“According to our investigation, the supervisor directed an officer to get rid of the body camera so that the evidence could not be downloaded in our docking station,” said BRPD’s Chief Paul. “A plan was then made to cover up the incident and get rid of the body cam. Based on our investigative efforts, four officers were charged.”

Not enough time to prepare

A pre-disciplinary hearing for the four BRPD officers was scheduled for Dec. 14, 2023, one day before Chief Paul is set to retire. However, their lawyers tell UWK that they were advised of the hearing on Dec. 1, 2023, 13 days before the scheduled date. They did not receive all the evidence to begin preparing for the hearing until Dec. 4

“It’s hundreds and hundreds of pages of documents, and hours of interviews and they wanted us to proceed to hearing in less than 10 days,” said Kyle Kershaw, who is representing Chutz & Barcelona. “It’s easily the largest IA (Internal Affairs) file I’ve ever seen. Every other hearing that I’ve had, has been set with ample notice, usually more than 30 days from the day of receipt of a letter and up to 45 days out.”

Plus, Kershaw said all three attorneys representing the officers had conflicts on Dec. 14. They requested BRPD to re-schedule so they could adequately prepare for the hearing and be present. The officers have the right to have an attorney represent them at the hearing.

“They suggested moving it to earlier in the week, from Thursday to Monday or Tuesday. One of the other attorneys had a trial on Monday and I had other court appearances to make. So then they were resorted back to their original date, which was tomorrow,” said Kershaw.

It’s why Kershaw said he had to do something he’s never done: file a temporary restraining order in 19th JDC that went to Judge Tarvald Smith.

Court filing to stop disciplinary hearing

Rather than face the impending hearing as scheduled, the attorneys filed a temporary restraining order on Dec. 13, a day before the hearing, to reschedule the hearing to a later date.

The TRO states that the timing does not give the attorneys enough time to prepare, and the attorneys have scheduling conflicts.

“This date was set unilaterally by BRPD with absolutely no input by any of the officers or the counselors that had represented them at the IA interview. It should be noted that the pre-disciplinary hearing is generally set at least 30 days from the issuance of the letter to allow receipt of the IA file review by officer and counsel, preparation for hearing, etc.”

The disciplinary hearing that would be before BRPD Chief Paul and Deputy Chief Myron Daniels was scheduled the day before Chief Paul’s retirement party on Dec. 15. In the hearing on Dec. 20, Judge Smith set the pre-disciplinary hearing for Jan. 12, 2024.

Kershaw said they highly suspect the pre-disciplinary hearing would turn into a pre-termination hearing for the BRPD officers.

“I assume the chief had already decided that he was going to find that they had violated policy. I believe he was going to terminate them,” said Kershaw. With his retirement set for the day after the pre-disciplinary hearing, Kershaw said this became a must have hearing, “Because he wanted to make sure he could terminate them.”

Baton Rouge Police Union’s response

The BRPD Police Union issued a press release giving its response to the discipline of officers named as a part of the brave cave. The Union requests that Chief Paul follow current precedent when disciplining officers. The current precedent is that officers aren’t disciplined until an indictment or judgment is issued.

For example, Donald Steele, whose trial on sexual battery, kidnapping and malfeasance in office charges is pending, remained on administrative leave with BRPD until he was indicted by the grand jury.

The Union argues if Chief Paul initiates disciplinary action, including potential termination, before any indictments are returned, he would be going against long standing BRPD precedent. Additionally, “he would also be subverting much of the established process, because the Municipal Fire and Police Civil Service Board, the board which is charged with appeals to discipline and termination cases, does not act until any court action has been taken.”

In the Union’s opinion, there is no need to rush the process to discipline the officers. The process will still be available after any judicial action is taken. The Union believes that the process could be damaged with hasty decisions.

Finally, the Union addressed that a new police chief is inevitably going to be selected, so in the interest of fairness, justice and BRPD, it might be better to have the new police chief weigh in.

Disclaimer

BRPD does not work with UWK and does not respond to any emails or questions regarding cases. It’s why BRPD does not have a response in this report.

As per BRPD General Order 139,  Public Information Officers may communicate with authorized news media representatives which is defined as “those individuals who are directly employed by agencies of the electronic or print media such as radio, television and newspapers.” 

The policy specifically states that “free-lance workers in this field are to be regarded as other members of the general public unless otherwise designated by the Chief of Police.”~BRPD

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Read More on the Brave Cave investigation

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