ST. JAMES PARISH, LA (WVUE) - FOX 8 has discovered that a pair of law enforcement officers with troubling backgrounds were hired by another agency. In one case, an officer had even been arrested and fired for a felony charge.
Crime watchdog Rafael Goyeneche said what we uncovered could have serious implications for one local parish.
"Here are two instances where individuals with checkered pasts were dismissed from other law enforcement agencies, yet both instances resulted in hires by the St. James Sheriff's Office," he said. "So I think again this is another example of why the sheriff owes an explanation to the public as to what criteria he used in hiring these two individuals," said Goyeneche, with the Metropolitan Crime Commission.
We have confirmed that Cody Malkiewicz is currently a commissioned patrol deputy with the St. James Parish Sheriff's Office. Malkiewicz joined St. James just nine months after being arrested and fired after facing a perjury charge while he was a St. John the Baptist Sheriff's Office deputy.
The St. John Sheriff's Office said Malkiewicz gave false courtroom testimony in a 2014 drug case that he worked.
According to court documents that are in his St. James Parish personnel file, Malkiewicz completed pre-trial diversion requirements and the district attorney agreed to dismiss the charge of perjury while under oath.
"Now, the really troubling and perplexing part of this particular case is that he disclosed the fact that he was terminated from St. John's when he was applying for a position in the St. James's Parish Sheriff's Office yet, he was still hired, so he didn't withhold that information," said Goyeneche.
Goyeneche said while questions about the officer's integrity are important, another factor could be his involvement in any criminal cases.
"I believe that if he ever has to appear in court in connection with an arrest or giving testimony in a case, the sheriff needs to disclose that to the district attorney in St. James Parish, and the district attorney has an ethical obligation to turn that over to the defense because the officer's integrity and truthfulness are relevant in any case that he would appear as a witness in to testify," said Goyeneche. "(Every case that he's involved with) is tainted by his prior arrest for lying under oath, because that's what he would be appearing in court to testify to in any criminal case that he would be subpoenaed as a witness."
The St. James Parish Sheriff's Office also hired Yule Pouchie in August of last year. Pouchie lost his job as a correctional officer with the Jefferson Parish Sheriff's Office in May 2015 after "numerous disciplinary actions against him, including multiple suspensions."
That included failing to assist a fellow officer with a confrontational inmate and jeopardizing the security of the correctional center.
"The ramifications of law enforcement hiring someone with a problematic background, including being discharged from another law enforcement agency, could potentially cost the agency that hired him millions of dollars in a civil judgment, so it's critically important for law enforcement to do extensive background checks to make sure that they're not taking another agency's problems and bringing it into their organization," said Goyeneche.
A 2014 interoffice memo in Pouchie's JPSO personnel file also said a sergeant found him irate and emotionally distraught prior to his shift. When she asked what was wrong, Pouchie said, "I am tired, I give up, I tried to kill myself this morning at home. I put the gun to my head and pulled the trigger but it did not go off because I did not have a clip in it."
A special investigator was called, and Pouchie was taken to West Jefferson Hospital for a mental evaluation. Officers then searched his car and found a Glock, one magazine and a holster.
His current file with the St. James Sheriff's Office shows more problems. He was reassigned from a patrol deputy to the corrections division last month due to a number of disciplinary actions. First, sleeping in his patrol unit while he was assigned to monitor traffic during flooding. Then, he was observed drinking off duty prior to reporting to work a detail. Next, not properly searching a suspect prior to booking that resulted in contraband being brought into the jail. And, finally handcuffing a driver during a traffic stop.
"Your public records disclose that it wasn't a single instance, but multiple disciplinary actions taken against him during his tenure there that ultimately resulted in him leaving, and he's hired, so problems in his background - he goes to work for a new agency and the same problems start to emerge in the current position," said Goyeneche.
Goyeneche says re-hiring officers with problematic backgrounds is nothing new.
"This has been historically a problem area for law enforcement in Louisiana going back for decades. As long as I've been here there have been instances where law enforcement employees have been fired by one agency and rehired by another agency," said Goyeneche.
But soon law enforcement agencies may have an important tool to help them make these critical hires. State Rep. Katrina Jackson is sponsoring legislation that would create a statewide database detailing serious offenses in any officer's disciplinary record.
"If there is one or two incidents where a bad law enforcement officer is able to transfer to another agency without being tracked for his or her wrongdoing, then it was a problem for us," said Jackson, D-Monroe.
Jackson said every law enforcement agency in the state is helping work on the bill.
"We just knew it was a problem," Jackson said. "What we've said is this and what we've found out during our hearings is there are a lot of good law enforcement officers around this state. The bad actors give all of the good actors and those who really uphold to protect and serve a bad name."
And, Goyeneche says it's critically important that hiring mistakes don't bounce between law enforcement agencies.
"Because, not only does it undermine public confidence in law enforcement, it could be potentially a very big financial burden if misconduct results in civil judgments against a sheriff's office or a municipal police department for hiring someone with a problematic background," said Goyeneche.
We reached out to St. James Parish Sheriff Willy Martin and requested an on-camera interview, but he told us he wouldn't talk publicly about personnel issues.