NEW ORLEANS, LA (WVUE) - A crime watchdog and the mayor call for change after a FOX 8 Investigation. As we first reported, two NOPD officers questioned in connection with the case of an accused cop killer both have troubling pasts. Now, questions are being raised about whether the NOPD should do more to punish or even fire officers who have serious disciplinary infractions.
We obtained personnel files for both Officer Wardell Johnson and Officer Jeardine Daniels-Sparks and found both have a history of violating police procedures. Johnson is now accused of deliberately hiding evidence in the fatal shooting of fellow Officer Daryle Holloway. Investigators say he missed evidence and failed to do a thorough search of Travis Boys before arresting him. Police say Boys later shot and killed Holloway while in custody.
Our investigation uncovered that Officer Johnson was suspended six times since 2007. According to his personnel file, those suspensions were for violations like mishandling evidence, being untruthful, and failing to conduct a complete investigation. "We've now seen based on the charges that have been brought against Wardell Johnson by the District Attorney's Office, that not only did he not follow the rules of the department, but he broke the law and somebody may have lost their life as a result of his negligence and possible criminal conduct," said Rafael Goyeneche with the Metropolitan Crime Commission.
Officer Jeardine Daniels-Sparks has also been questioned by the NOPD's Public Integrity Bureau about any connection she may have had to Boys. Our investigation revealed she is now facing new allegations for failing to take appropriate and necessary police action as well as failing to thoroughly search for, collect, preserve and identify evidence. While those neglect-of-duty allegations don't specify whether they're connected to the Boys case, the date the investigation started was June 24, 2015, just four days after police say Boys killed Holloway and escaped.
"Those are the types of things that I think unfortunately continue to plague the New Orleans Police Department," Goyeneche said. "That failure to follow the rules hasn't resulted in any type of consequence for too many officers, so a number of officers believe that there will be no penalty if they don't follow the rules."
The NOPD records obtained by FOX 8 also show that the department recommended Sparks be suspended for 85 days in 2001 for being untruthful, abusing her position, and testifying on behalf of a defendant - a defendant that is her son. Sparks at first appealed that suspension to the Civil Service Commission but later withdrew her appeal. She had numerous other violations - even a termination recommendation in her file - but she appealed and won.
"Maybe it's time to look at other options rather than have a police chief appointed by politicians. Let the police chief or let's have a sheriff that is answerable to the public and that is not going to be impeded by having the Civil Service looking over his or her shoulder and then make decisions about what's in the best interest of the police department and public safety," said Goyeneche.
But the New Orleans Fraternal Order of Police doesn't see it that way. "I think that it is particularly important to public service to have civil service in place and to have these avenues of appeal and rules in place to ensure fairness in public employment and to exclude political meddling in public jobs," said Donovan Livaccari with the FOP.
We also reached out to the Mayor's office about the findings of our investigation. In a statement, the Mayor's press secretary said:
"Mayor Landrieu remains committed to building the best trained, best equipped and highest paid police department in the region. Similar to any major incident, we are fully reviewing the situation and will make any necessary changes to strengthen the NOPD.
"We firmly believe the police chief should have more autonomy to discipline and terminate officers when serious disciplinary infractions occur. While the Civil Service Commission was designed to prevent political interference in personnel matters, cases like these demonstrate how the City and NOPD can be hamstrung by bureaucracy to the detriment of the public good. We will continue to work with the Civil Service Commission to ensure that NOPD can run as effectively as possible."
We reached out the Civil Service Commission about this story, but they had no comment. It's important to note that the NOPD says Officer Sparks has not been reassigned, transferred, arrested or named as a suspect at this time. We've also made every effort to get in touch with Officer Sparks but have been unable to get in touch with her. We also reached out to Officer Johnson's attorney, but he has not yet returned our request for comment.