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Deputy accused of pulling gun on crowd raises questions about integrity

St. John Deputy Barry Conner (Source: SJSO) St. John Deputy Barry Conner (Source: SJSO)

The investigation of a St. John the Baptist Parish sheriff's deputy accused of pulling his gun on a crowd of people raises serious questions about his integrity, according to the region’s top police watchdog.

According to documents obtained by FOX 8, Deputy Barry Conner was off duty when dispatchers told responding deputies, “An off-duty police officer with our agency had pulled a gun out in the crowd” at 3LJ’s Café and Sports Bar on Belle Terre Boulevard in Laplace around 1:50 a.m. on Oct. 23, 2015.

Minutes later, Deputy Conner called the Sheriff’s Office and reported someone else pulling a gun on the crowd before hanging up the phone, according to documents.

When deputies arrived, Conner was nowhere to be found, so two lieutenants, Cleven Remondet and Keith Carroll, headed to Conner’s home to speak to him about the incident.

Conner was only an employee for 53 days and was assigned to the Sherman Walker Correctional Center as a guard, a position that did not require him to carry a gun. In fact, according to documents, Conner was not POST certified. Under St. John sheriff’s rules, that means he would not be allowed to carry a weapon on or off duty.

Once the two lieutenants arrived at Conner’s home, it took another 20 minutes for him to show up, and that’s when his superiors were finally able to question him about what happened at the sports bar.

According to the primary reports filed by Lt. Carroll and Lt. Remondet, in the hours immediately following the incident, Conner told deputies he was at the club when several females began to fight. He said someone shouted in the crowd “He a policeman” [sic] pointing at Conner, then someone pulled a gun out on Conner’s cousin. That’s when Conner said he was “scared for his life” and retrieved his Sheriff’s Office badge and his personally owned gun from his truck.

Conner told Lt. Carroll that he put his gun in his pocket and began to walk toward the club, eventually entering the bar with his gun in order to use the security guard’s phone to call the Sheriff’s Office, according to the report.

Lt. Remondet wrote in his report that Conner “admitted to consuming alcohol at the club and was obviously under the influence. Deputy Conner had a strong odor of an alcohol beverage omitting [sic] from his person.”

The lieutenants tried to get a written statement from Conner about the incident, but the deputy could only manage this four-line paragraph, stating:

“I call the police because someone pulled out a gun. Prior to that someone yell that I was a cop and I was the guy cousin that had the gun pulled out on him so I grabbed my gun and badge and walked in front the club to called the police.” [sic]

After their questions, the lieutenants confiscated Conner’s weapon, badge, and commission and told him not to report to work until he heard from his commanding officers. Conner was scheduled to go to work only a few hours later at 5:30 a.m.

“There were violations in the way that he handled that disturbance because he was a new hire, he wasn't POST certified, he wasn't supposed to be using a weapon under the umbrella of the Sheriff's Office,” said Metropolitan Crime Commission President Rafael Goyeneche.

Goyeneche thinks it’s clear that Conner violated department rules, but said what’s more concerning is what happened later that same morning when Conner reported to internal affairs for an interview to go over what he told the two lieutenants at his house.

“Those statements there are refuted by that same deputy a couple of hours later when he came into internal affairs and gave another statement,” Goyeneche said.

According to the transcript of that interview Conner was asked by Internal Affairs, “Were you also intoxicated last night when this incident occurred?” To which he answered, “No.”

He was then asked, “If I told you some officers who were present last night state you were intoxicated, would they be lying?” To which he answers, “Yes.”

He’s asked one more time, “So it’s clear to say that you were not intoxicated at any time last night?” Again Conner replies, “No.”

As the interview goes on, he denies ever entering the club with his weapon.

“To me, his denials several hours later are worse than the events in which he violated departmental rules, because the most important thing that anyone in law enforcement has is their word and their integrity,” Goyeneche said. “The fact that after he's had a chance to cool down and according to these reports, maybe sober up and work any alcohol out of his system, he totally refutes what he told two different lieutenants in two different reports hours earlier that evening.”

Ultimately, Sheriff Mike Tregre decided to suspend Conner for three 12-hour shifts. His suspension documents show his violation as “Not POST certified or weapons certified and carrying a gun off-duty.”

It’s a punishment Goyeneche thinks completely overlooks the real issue in this investigation.

“My personal opinion is that his untruthfulness to either the investigators initially or to the internal affairs officers later on raises this to a more serious thing because it goes to the heart of his credibility as an officer,” Goyeneche said.

In fact, Goyeneche feels the responding officers dropped the ball when they failed to investigate Conner’s alleged intoxication.

“You know, if he had pulled a gun and identified himself as police, you want, as an investigator, you want to find out if he was, in fact, impaired. Did he have one beer or did he have more than one? Did it rise to the level of some type of impairment? The report seems to indicate that he was, but they didn't take any steps to actually identify how impaired he was with some of the standard tests that are available,” Goyeneche said.

Looking over the documents obtained by FOX 8, Goyeneche feels it’s clear that Deputy Conner wasn’t truthful, either initially or to internal affairs.

“And that's something that I think is extremely serious and I don't believe a 36-hour suspension does justice to the misconduct. I'm not saying he should've been fired, but I'm saying, in my opinion, this is a serious issue of integrity with respect to the conduct of this officer,” Goyeneche said.

It’s a level of unprofessionalism that Goyeneche believes sets a poor precedent at the Sheriff’s Office. He believes Tregre should send a message that he won’t tolerate untruthfulness.

“Reading this, if I can read it and see it, then certainly the sheriff can read it and see it as well and he would have to explain why he came to the conclusion that this case merited the discipline he handed out in this instance,” Goyeneche said.

FOX 8 gave Sheriff Tregre the chance to comment on the investigation but he declined to do an on-camera interview. In a text message he wrote, “Deputy Conner was suspended based on what people told officers, but no one came forward to give a formal statement.”

The documents show he was suspended for carrying his weapon without certification. Deputy Conner is still employed by the St. John Sheriff’s Office.

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