Zurik: State Police commissioner accused of fixing tickets, threatening trooper

Zurik: State Police commissioner accused of fixing tickets, threatening trooper
Updated: Jul. 18, 2017 at 11:49 AM CDT
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BATON ROUGE, LA (WVUE) - Governor John Bel Edwards says he's looking into allegations raised in our new investigative story - allegations made about an appointee to a powerful state board.

Calvin Braxton is one of a handful of Louisianans with the weighty position of policing the police.

"This is the kind of public corruption that we talk about all the time, in various contexts," says Joel Friedman, a law professor at Tulane University. "This is just another example. And it's unacceptable."

Braxton has used his powerful position to get tickets fixed and to threaten a state trooper who arrested his daughter.

"It's entitlement: I work for the government, I'm entitled, I'm something special, the rules don't apply to me," Friedman says.

On December 4, 2015, State Police Trooper Jayson Linebaugh stopped Braxton's daughter at 6:00 p.m. in Natchitoches Parish. Braxton's daughter had a blood alcohol level of .139. She was charged with driving while intoxicated, speeding, improper lane usage and an open container violation.

In a report, the LSP Troop E commander, Jay Oliphant, details how he called Braxton as a courtesy because he's a member of the State Police Commission - the regulatory body that oversees State Police and hears appeals for officers' disciplinary action. Oliphant wrote that Braxton said the trooper "should have known who he was, and he should have given his daughter... professional courtesy, as well as utilized discretion in not arresting her."

"You [should not] have a commissioner of an entity trying to use that authority to effectuate and force the body over whom you supervise to alter its operations to suit your personal needs," Friedman insists. "That's the definition... of abuse of power."

Oliphant wrote, "Braxton stated it was fine if Trooper Linebaugh didn't help him" because Braxton "might not help Trooper Linebaugh if he gets in a bind on the job which requires him to appear before the Louisiana State Police Commission."

"What he's doing is attempting to use the power of his position as a commissioner, overseeing the State Police department," Friedman tells us, "to bring that power to bear on underlings in the state department is an abuse of his authority."

According to the incident report, Braxton "stated Linebaugh needed to be reassigned to New Orleans for about 60-90 days to get his mind right," and added that members of the State Police Commission "are not to be touched."

Braxton allegedly said, "Neither they nor their families are suppose [sic] to receive tickets and things of that nature." And, according to the report, Braxton told Oliphant, "If he did not have any more 'stroke' than that, he was unsure of what to do," and that he "was not finished with this issue."

"This man really should be ashamed," Friedman says. "And he should have resigned already."

There's more. Braxton also used his powerful position to get out of tickets.

He received a speeding ticket in Plantation Key, Florida. The executive director of the State Police Commission at that time, Cathy Derbonne, wrote the county clerk there, asking for Braxton's ticket to be reduced or dropped.

She wrote the request on commission letterhead, and even kept Braxton updated by email. When she told him she would keep him posted, Braxton replied, "OK".

And Derbonne wrote another letter, this one to St. Landry Parish's sheriff to help with a ticket for Hunter DuBois. DuBois's connection to Braxton is unclear, but emails show someone from the Ford dealership owned by Braxton emailed Derbonne, writing, "Mr. Braxton wants you to help with this."

Braxton is copied on many of the email exchanges and even broke the news that "Hunter's ticket was taken care of."

We tried to interview Braxton minutes before last Thursday's meeting of the State Police Commission meeting. When we told him we'd like to discuss the allegations, he first told us, "I have no idea what you're talking about."

It took Braxton a little time to remember making requests and threats that Friedman calls "sickening".

We showed him emails that FOX 8 obtained, detailing what happened. We also showed him documents on his daughter's arrest for DWI, and the allegations that he attempted to use his position on the commission to punish the trooper who made the arrest.

As we asked him whether such conduct was appropriate for such a commissioner, he referred to our evidence and said, "That's pretty good. What was the outcome?"

We reminded him he didn't have the power to do that. And we asked whether the allegations are untrue.

"According to the trooper, that's what I say," Braxton told us.

Then he asked us, "What trooper said that? We showed him the report and he told us again, "I don't know what you're talking about."

We offered to let him read the full report. "Nope," Braxton said, "I done already looked at that. I looked at that... I've seen that. Absolutely."

And when we asked for his thoughts on the report, he simply said, "I have no comment."

We asked if he thinks it's appropriate for a member of the State Police Commission to try to get tickets fixed: "I have no comment."

And trying to punish a trooper for arresting his daughter? "I have no comment," he said. "He did his job... I have no comment to the trooper."

After we left, Braxton discussed our attempted interview with his fellow commissioners; his comments were recorded by the website Sound Off Louisiana.

"This guy hit me with tickets I didn't know nothing about," he told them. "If I did do tickets, I don't know."

He continued, "My daughter's deal was a year and half ago. I'll admit to that. Now, the ticket deal, I have no idea. If I did, I did."

He told the board members, "I got a wide back. I got nothing to hide." And he closed with one last message: "It's over with. Let it run its trout line. Let it do what it's got to do... People did what they did. The governor did what he did; I'm still here."

Gov. Edwards has known about the DWI incident for at least a year.

"That's unacceptable," Friedman says.

In July 2016, the attorney representing the State Troopers Association sent a letter to the governor that detailed the incident, and even included the entire incident report. The association wanted Braxton charged and removed from office.

They never received a response. They sent another letter last month, asking for a "public hearing."

"I'm very disappointed so far in the governor's lack of response," Friedman says.

The governor's deputy chief of staff sent FOX 8 this statement Monday:

Just today, the Governor's Office was made aware of the existence of emails sent on behalf of Commissioner Braxton regarding traffic citations. The governor will review the new information and determine the next steps.  That said, all public officials must hold themselves to the highest ethics standard. The governor will accept nothing less.

Under state law, Braxton can be removed from the board for cause, but only after being served with written specifications of the charges against him, and after a public hearing by the governor.

If these allegations are true, Friedman says, the governor needs to do one thing: remove Braxton from the commission.

"There's no question about it," he says. "People have to be accountable... for their actions."

But a year after finding out Braxton may have abused his power, the most powerful person in the state has remained silent, so far.

"The honor of being appointed to this position should impose upon you, internally, a sense of propriety," Friedman tells us. "And you should be bending over backwards to not do anything that even gives the appearance of abusing your power. This is not bending over backwards, this is blatant. This is just a blatant abuse of power."

Editor's note - An earlier version of this report incorrectly identified Braxton as an appointee of Gov. Edwards. He was appointed on June 10, 2015, during the Jindal administration. We regret the error.

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