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Zurik: NOPD Sergeant appears to be behind the wheel of racecar, instead of patrol car

Published: Nov. 16, 2021 at 10:00 PM CST|Updated: Nov. 16, 2021 at 10:57 PM CST
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NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - A New Orleans police sergeant appeared to be behind the wheel of a racecar on multiple occasions instead of being behind the wheel of his patrol car for assigned duty and specially-assigned detail shifts.

Over the past three years, NOPD Sergeant Todd Morrell has repeatedly been one of the highest-paid officers on the force, earning $188,065 in 2018, $212,943 in 2019, and $192,901 in 2020. Morrell is able to pad his pay by working overtime and detail shifts, which are administered through the city’s Office of Police Secondary Employment.

But during some of those shifts, Morrell appears to be driving race cars on the other side of the Mississippi River.

Morrell is a frequent driver at NOLA Motorsports Park on the Westbank.

On June 21, 2020, online race results show Morrell finished first in a race at the track in a race at 9 a.m., but according to his timesheets, Morrell was on-duty for the police department starting at 5 a.m. and lasting most of the day.

“When you clock in, to be a police officer on duty, that’s a sacred responsibility,” Joel Friedman, Tulane Law Professor, said. “You are there from the time you clock in to the time you clock out, you are being paid by the City of New Orleans by us the taxpayers to be a police officer. Those hours should be reserved 100% for your work as a police officer.”

But June 2020 was not an isolated incident.

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On June 6, 2021, Morrell finished second in a 16.5-mile race. According to the results website, the race started at 8 a.m. and Morrell’s police department timesheet showed him working an ‘unscheduled shift’ that started at 6 a.m. until 2 p.m.

Morrell finished third in a December 3, 2017 race with records showing the race took place at 9 a.m., and his NOPD records show the same morning, Morrell was on the clock from 6 a.m. until 2:35 p.m. According to race records, on that day Morrell raced at 9 a.m. and again at 11:10 a.m., while he was on the clock for NOPD.

Department policy states officers “shall not engage in activities or personal business which would cause them to neglect or be inattentive to duty.”

“You are breaching the duty you owe to the public that you’ve sworn to protect that you are going to observe the rules of the police department,” Friedman said. “And we’re paying you to be a police officer. And we don’t have a surplus of police officers right now, we need everyone that can work when they’re supposed to work.”

Morrell also frequently works off-duty detail assignments patrolling the neighborhood adjacent to the Fairgrounds. In 2005, after the approval of slot machines, the New Orleans City Council passed an ordinance requiring the fairgrounds to hire four off-duty police officers 24-hours-a-day to patrol the neighborhood. One of the councilmembers who approved that ordinance was Morrell’s mother, former Councilmember Cynthia Hedge-Morrell.

But a comparison of race records to those detail assignment records question whether Morrell was always fulfilling his detail duty.

On January 23, 2021, Morrell claimed to work a twelve-hour detail shift in the neighborhood from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. But online race records show Morrell raced at the track that day in three races at 9:40 a.m., 11:35 a.m. and 2:45 p.m., all while he was scheduled to be on detail assignment in the Fairgrounds neighborhood.

On that day, The National Auto Sport Association NOLA streamed a live awards ceremony on Facebook with Morrell handing out awards, including one given to himself.

Two months later, on March 13, Morrell had a six-hour detail shift from 6 a.m. to Noon. Race records show he raced at NOLA Motorsports at 8 a.m., 9:30 a.m. and 11:35 a.m.

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FOX 8 found at least 18 instances where Morrell appeared to race cars while collecting a taxpayer check. Including in 2018, race results showed Morrell was racing during nine different days at NOLA Motorsports and appeared to be on an NOPD assignment eight out of those nine days.

Tulane Law Professor Joel Friedman said the findings need to be investigated by an outside agency.

FOX 8 reached out to Sgt. Morrell, but he did not respond to our request for comment on this story. He did send our request to the counsel for the police officer’s association who said NOPD policy does not allow Morrell to make a comment.

Two sources connected to the NOLA Motorsports Park said the results online are accurate and if Morrell is listed as the driver, then he actually raced in the race on that date.

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