ZURIK: NOPD Chief confirms 11 officers under criminal investigation by FBI
NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - The New Orleans Police Department confirms that 11 of its officers are under criminal investigation by the FBI, following a series of FOX 8 investigations on abuse of the NOPD Detail program. Now, Superintendent Shaun Ferguson says he wants to know if the issues were mistakes or fraud.
It comes as FOX 8 learns license plate reader cameras showed at least one officer’s car was far away from her paid detail duties.
The NOPD has more than 100 license plate reader cameras across the city. Sources tell FOX 8 that on nine different days, an NOPD investigation found Captain Sabrina Richardson was paid for a detail shift in the Fairgrounds neighborhood, while one of those cameras captured her police unit on the Westbank.
The investigation into Richardson was performed by NOPD Captain Nick Gernon. According to sources, Gernon found forty-four instances of Richardson breaking NOPD policy, and in some cases, possibly the law.
Weeks after the investigation ended, Gernon was moved from the head of homicide to the crime lab, which some officers felt was a demotion. Superintendent Shaun Ferguson says that was not the case. “No, he was not demoted. There was a lateral transfer.”
Ferguson says he had to move some people around after Captain Darryl Albert took a job in Alabama. That created an opening at the crime lab, and Ferguson says Gernon was the best choice, even though the timing might have looked bad to some. “I have no control (over) when Captain Albert was offered this opportunity,” said Ferguson. “Unfortunately, the timeliness may be perceived as poor timing of retaliatory, but I can assure you, nothing, no decision that Shaun Ferguson makes or has made in this seat is based on emotion. It is based on my oath, which is what is in the best interest of this department. What is in the best interest of this city.”
Richardson used to work for the NOPD’s Public Integrity Bureau. It is the team that investigates other members of the NOPD. She was removed to head of the NOPD’s third district, which covers Lakeview and Gentilly.
Ferguson says the report detailing alleged violations by Richardson will be sent to Orleans District Attorney Jason Williams soon to review for possible criminal offenses.
ZURIK CONTINUING INVESTIGATIONS
A series of FOX 8 investigations last year showed other NOPD officers abusing the detail program. That included examples of officers’ double-dipping by performing detail and duty work at the same time, as well as officers breaking NOPD policy, and officers claiming to do detail work while actually racing a car or walking the dog.
The NOPD confirms to FOX 8 that 11 officers are now under criminal investigation by the FBI. Five of those officers, Todd Morrell, Nicholas Morrell, Michael Stalbert, Rene Benjamin, and Brian Sullivan, have received target letters from the FBI.
The other six have not received target letters and the NOPD is uncertain if federal investigators have found any wrongdoing by them. The five officers who received target letters have been reassigned to desk duty, while the other six are still working, but have been suspended from performing detail work.
The NOPD showed FOX 8 a 30-minute presentation outlining the ways the department has reformed the detail program. That includes linking NOPD timesheets and off-duty detail records, which was not done prior to FOX 8′s investigations. The NOPD is also performing regular audits on the detail program. That started this year.
“It is disappointing whenever any officer is under criminal investigation, wherever they are a patrolman, sergeant, lieutenant, captain, deputy chief, or even myself, it can be concerning,” said Ferguson. “But I think what we have to also look at is that, you know, for whatever reason, there’s this perception that there’s this subculture that is lying within our department that just does not exist. Right now, we have some outliers, we have some things in which we are looking into, but we also recognize that there were some mistakes made on everyone’s behalf with regards to this particular detail investigation.”
The head of the Office of Police Secondary Employment, a city agency separate from the NOPD, still has not agreed to comment on its role in overseeing the program. However, Ferguson says he is confident his office’s attention to the details will put an end to the issues we uncovered.
“There were some mistakes made at every level. Meaning from our officers to the vendors with OPSC, as well as our department, and some of our policies at OPSC,” said Ferguson. “But then on the other side, we also learned that there is a huge misunderstanding of our policy itself. But we do know that there were some mistakes and possibly, potentially some fraud. But again, we have to wait for the criminal investigation to determine otherwise.”
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