WATCH NOW: Disparate Discipline: Turning a Blind Eye?
Should a police officer be on paid administrative leave for an entire year? That’s the question when it comes to Baton Rouge Police Officer Donald Steele. Plus, is he legally receiving the additional $500 monthly supplemental pay? Steele is on leave due to the alleged sexual harassment of a teenager he pulled over for a DWI a year ago.
It was around 2 am on June 23, 2021 when a 19-yr-old was driving down Burbank Dr. and was pulled over by Baton Rouge Police Officer Donald Steele for a possible DWI.
“My client was leaving her apartment to go to a friend’s house. Shortly after leaving her apartment, she was pulled over,” said the teen’s lawyer Ron Haley. “Donald Steele began a typical traffic stop but then nothing typical happened after she was stopped.”
Unfiltered with Kiran is choosing not to publish the teenager’s name.
“He asked her if she was drinking that night. She said she had a drink or a shot. He said listen, ‘I can take you to jail for DWI, but I’m not because you’re pretty’,” said Haley.
That’s when Haley said Steele told her “too many people know him out here” so they needed to move. Afraid to disobey an officer & threatened with an arrest, the 19-yr-old did as she was told and followed Steele to an empty warehouse near Hollywood Casino. It’s where Haley alleges the following:
“She remained there with him for about an hour and a half. During the time, there were multiple innuendoes made by Mr. Steele towards my client. Mr. Steele kissed my client without her permission. Mr. Steele touched my client without her consent. Mr. Steele exchanged phone number with my client without consent. At some point, my client was allowed to go home. Mr. Steele told my client he wanted to come over later that morning.”
Haley provided a copy of those text messages to Unfiltered with Kiran where Steele allegedly texted the Southern University teen several harassing & inappropriate sexual comments. The texts included him asking if he could come over early in the morning after his shift ended and that he had money for her to get her nails done, but she barely responded.
After that, she reached out to Ron Haley asking him to represent her. Haley said they were able to affirm her story by backtracking Steele’s whereabouts on June 23rd.
“Even though he turned off his body camera & dash camera, his radio was still on and we learned that the exact route that my client said they went on, it tracked by the GPS in his walkie talkie,” said Haley.
August 25, 2021, nearly two months since the alleged incident, Steele was arrested & charged with two felonies: second-degree kidnapping & malfeasance in office. In addition to the felonies, Steele was also arrested for a misdemeanor sexual battery.
KIRAN: Do you think had you not gotten involved, an arrest would not have been made?
HALEY: I think it’s quite possible.
That started the possible criminal proceedings. Before that though, the Baton Rouge Police Dept. launched an internal affairs investigation and per procedure, put Steele on paid administrative leave. That means the taxpayers are paying his salary while Steele is ordered to remain at home. Fast forward one year & Steele remains on administrative leave.
“As far as this admin leave, this is unprecedented in my experience to have somebody on admin leave essentially for a year,” said former BRPD Chief Greg Phares.
Phares helped explain some of BRPD’s policies & procedures, such as paid admin leave.
“That is typically done for a few days so the chief and his internal affairs investigators can determine to their satisfaction whether there’s merit to the accusation against the officer,” said Phares. “I think someone who is on admin leave essentially for a year, as I read the law, they would not classify to receive that pay.”
The pay Phares is referring to is the Louisiana state supplemental pay. It’s an additional $500 officers can receive monthly on top of their salary. The state supplements the $500 for enforcing state laws.
However, in order to receive it, the officer must be post certified & maintain an up-to-date firearms qualification. That means the officer needs to qualify with his/her department issued gun and go through a week-long training called in-service.
Per BRPD’s policy, when an officer is placed on leave, the department strips the officer of his or her police car, badge, radio, gun & much more. According to records obtained by Unfiltered with Kiran, Steele however, was allowed to return to the Baton Rouge PD range on Feb. 25, 2022 for his firearms qualifications. In fact, sources said special accommodations were made so Steele could go to the range, be given his gun to qualify, return the gun & then leave. That happened while Steele was still on admin leave and awaiting prosecution on felony charges.
Having an updated firearms qualification likely meant Steele could continue receiving supplemental pay. However, if an officer is on administrative leave, does he/she qualify for supplemental pay?
“Supplemental pay per the law is for people who are doing active police work and enforcing the laws,” said Phares.
That law reads people who “shall not be…entitled to additional pay out of state funds” includes people who work purely “clerical or nonenforcement duties.”
When an officer is on leave with no police car, gun or radio, he or she cannot enforce the laws meaning the supplemental pay needs to pause.
Records show Steele has been receiving supplemental pay every month in 2022, as recently as June 30th and the man approving that pay is Baton Rouge Police Chief Murphy Paul.
“The authorization for officers to receive state pay is what’s called a pay warrant signed by the chief who certifies the officers on that list have performed their duties in compliance with the state supplemental state law,” said Phares.
If an officer should not receive supplemental pay, the chief should not sign off. But a look at all of Steele’s payments shows the first signature approving the pay is Chief Murphy Paul, followed by Mayor-President Sharon Weston Broome certifying the pay.
“I think the taxpayers should be upset at that. Again, additional taxpayer money are going to pay for an officer that was arrested for doing something illegal while he was on the job,” said Haley.
Back to the being on administrative leave for an entire year, Haley said the delay is from the district attorney’s office.
“What we’re waiting on is a decision from the DA’s office as to whether or not Mr. Steele is going to be prosecuted or not,” said Haley.
“The matter is still under review but we expect some decisions here fairly soon. We had a little Covid setback but we also asked for some further investigation to be conducted. That has been conducted. There’s a few other things that we’re going to do but that won’t take much time and we anticipate we will be moving forward with charges one way or the other,” said 19th JDC District Attorney Hillar Moore.
Moore said because it’s a high profile case involving a police officer, he wants to ensure the case is solid, but Haley said they’re not asking for guilt or innocence right now. They simply need to know whether there’s enough evidence to move forward with criminal charges for second-degree kidnapping, malfeasance in office and/or misdemeanor sexual battery.
“This is a case we’re considering taking to a grand jury. We have not made that decision yet. Those charges don’t require a grand jury but this is one based on our review that we may wish to go to a grand jury,” said Moore.
“It certainly raises questions in my mind as to why these serious allegations have not been resolved one way or the other,” said Phares. “If they are true, it certainly merits very, very serious discipline and if not true, if he’s been wrongly accused, then he needs to be returned to work for his sake.”
Haley’s client filed a protective order against Steele claiming Steele was allegedly stalking her and had sexually assaulted her. Nearly a year later, Haley’s client’s protective order could potentially be in jeopardy.
Brpd is waiting on the criminal proceedings before the internal affairs investigation but is that normal?
“I can see a possible reason for it, but in my opinion, you can’t delay it for this amount of time. It needed to be resolved a long time ago,” said Phares.
So you may ask why does it appear Steele is getting preferential treatment. Steele is a member of the Omega Psi Phi fraternity, the same fraternity of which Myron Daniels is a member. Daniels is the deputy chief over internal affairs. Evidence points towards Chief Paul also being a member of the same fraternity. It’s why Unfiltered with Kiran has repeatedly requested an interview with Chief Paul.
KIRAN: Are you going to comment or interview at all with me?
CHIEF: I’m sorry?
KIRAN: Are you going to interview with me at all?
CHIEF: I told you to go through the PIO’s (public information officers).
KIRAN: I’ve gone through the PIO’s and the PIO’s tell me they have to wait on you to respond so I’m confused what’s happening.
CHIEF: Well, what’s happening is there’s a process. You have to go through the process just like the Advocate over there asking for an interview.
KIRAN: I’ve done that.
After being denied repeatedly, it’s why Unfiltered with Kiran asked the chief on camera for an interview after a civil service hearing, but the chief continued walking away without answering any questions.
KIRAN: Chief, can I talk to you? Are you just not going to talk to me at all? Are we ever going to interview about anything? Chief, why not talk to me? Are you a member of a fraternity? Chief, you just talked about how all officers should be disciplined.
The chief did not answer if he’s a member of the fraternity and till this day, the chief refuses to interview with Unfiltered with Kiran.
KIRAN: What do you feel is the message being sent when you have an officer such as Donald Steele and all the allegations against him, is still a police officer?
HALEY: I think it sends a bad message that you can basically get away with anything without having any real consequence. You can do something so egregious that leads you to being arrested but yet you’re still allowed to, not necessarily have a badge but you’re still allowed to have the benefits of that badge. You’re still getting paid by the taxpayers.
Steele’s attorney Franz Borghardt did issue a statement on his client’s behalf:
“My client, Mr. Steele is on paid administrative leave with the Baton Rouge Police Dept. & issues in regards to his compensation should be addressed through BRPD.”
Unfiltered with Kiran also reached out to BRPD asking Chief Paul for any comment on the Steele case. He did not respond but the lawyer for BRPD Deelee Morris said I’m a freelance reporter so I’m regarded as another member of the general public unless otherwise designated by the chief of police. As of yet, the chief has not designated me as media.
Meanwhile, a date has not been set just yet for if & when this case will be taken before a grand jury.