After nearly an hour of discussion on the item of whether or not Baton Rouge Police Chief Murphy Paul should get an additional $80,000 for his legal team, the motion failed in a 6-6 vote. At least seven votes were needed to have the motion pass.
This was the third time since 2020 that Chief Paul has gone to the metrocouncil requesting an increase for two private lawyers, Jim Raines & Leo Hamilton. The last time, Aug. 2021, the request was an increase from $78,000/year to $150,000/year. That request raised questions from the public and council members but the council still approved it. At that time however, several council members warned the chief that they most likely would not approve another request for an increase.
“We had a meeting here where we all warned the attorneys that it was a problem with us going over the contract and there was a flagrant disregard for that warning and we went $80,000 over,” said Councilwoman Jen Racca.
“We spoke about this last year. I made it clear that I’m going to look at performance metrics on this and I was assured this is new reforms being put into place…I guess 5 years of them is what we’re looking at at this point and we should see this tapering off right. I made the statement that if we’re looking at this again next year that I would look at how the performance has been since. If we’re seeing less push back and seeing morale build in the department and a reduction in crime, then I would say it’s working. I don’t think we’re seeing any of those things so I look at what the pure mission of the baton rouge police department is which is public safety, maybe it’s just the headlines but it sure doesn’t seem like crime is being reduced based on these reforms and we’re 5 years into these reforms and we’re still having pushback. I’m sure trying to change the culture may be difficult. I’m not sure it’s having the desired goal for the end mission which is increasing public safety and reducing crime,” said Councilman Brandon Noel.
In Jan. 2022, Chief Paul requested another increase of $80,000. That meant his budget for lawyers from the firm Breazeale, Sachse & Wilson, LLP where Raines & Hamilton work, would go from $150,000 to $230,000 had it been approved.
Chief Paul & Jim Raines spoke up at the council meeting in January saying the additional $80,000 was for services already performed. At the Feb. 23rd council meeting, it was brought up that since these services were already provided to the chief and city, the council should approve them. That however did not hold back change at least six council members’ votes.
“I’m just going to say it like it is. He’s getting supported in attorney fees paid by city tax dollars that we’re approving today,” said Councilman Aaron Moak.
A former Baton Rouge Police Officer spoke up about the current culture at the department when it comes to handing out discipline to officers. Cameron “Marshall” McDermitt said he was fired from the department two years ago by Chief Paul for falsifying documents. In comparison, Stefan Jones received a 4-day suspension for falsifying a military order after he admitted to it. His list of examples went on but his 3-minute time cut him short.
“Chief Paul is not fair and impartial in his discipline of the officers. He picks and chooses which officers he wants to discipline and doesn’t even follow the policy when handing down that discipline. He will choose to go beyond the scope of the policy or go below the policy in order to protect these other officers. This causes even more officers to appeal even more discipline which costs taxpayers even more dollars and in some cases, they end up having to pay backpay,” said McDermitt.
Councilman Moak called McDermitt back to the podium to get a better grasp on how discipline is handed down by the current BRPD administration.
The Chief fired back saying, “We are very fair in our disciplinary process. It’s a fair process.” We went on to explain McDermitt was terminated after what the chief saw on his body camera. McDermitt says the administration did not watch the entire video before disciplining him. Regardless, McDermitt’s point was that there is disparate discipline when it comes to which officers are disciplined and who are not.
It’s unclear now of how the chief moves forward with legal representation. He can choose to use the legal counsel the city-parish provides. Raines & Hamilton can continue to represent the chief but they most likely would not get paid from the city-parish since funding has been denied outside the chief’s annually budgeted legal representation.