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ZURIK: Questions raised about NOPD Captain’s position on state board amid paid-detail investigation

Published: May. 16, 2022 at 10:05 PM CDT|Updated: May. 16, 2022 at 10:38 PM CDT
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NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - Even though an internal New Orleans Police Department investigation found possible criminal violations by Capt. Sabrina Richardson, she still sits on the State Police Commission. It’s a state board that oversees disciplinary measures for Louisiana State Troopers.

The possible violations by Richardson have Tulane law professor Joel Friedman calling for her removal from the board.

“Why would you have somebody who has flouted the law and flouted the regulations be a judge of other police? It makes no sense whatsoever,” said Friedman.

Governor John Bel Edwards appointed Richardson to the board in 2020, after the Governor’s Office received an email from New Orleans attorney Ike Spears, who wrote, “Congressman Cedric Richmond recommended the appointment of Richardson to the State Police Commission.”

However, the Orleans Parish District Attorney’s Office has now launched a criminal investigation into Richardson, after NOPD Sgt. Nick Gernon found nine instances where Richardson was paid for detail work on the East Bank, while a license plate reader camera captured pictures of her police unit on the West Bank.

ATTENTION TO THE DETAILS

Cameras show NOPD officer’s vehicles far away from paid detail shifts

Timesheets show questionable practices among NOPD’s Public Integrity Bureau

Investigation into NOPD’s Public Integrity Bureau requested

“It’s not fair. She has no credibility,” Friedman said. “I mean, you wouldn’t want to have somebody who had been found to have falsified their IRS tax filings to suddenly run a tax audit on somebody, would you? No, of course not.”

New Orleans has more than 100 license plate readers across the city. FOX 8 requested every time a license plate reader camera captured Richardson’s unit. The NOPD only provided six months’ worth, saying the files are deleted after six months.

FOX 8 found eight instances where Richardson worked a detail, but the cameras caught her police unit miles away. That includes Nov. 27, 2021, when she was scheduled to work a detail at Champions Square from 11:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. However, at 1:07 p.m., a license plate reading camera captured a picture of her police unit on the West Bank, about five miles away. About an hour after that, a camera caught her police unit on Chef Menteur Highway in New Orleans East, about 6 1/2 miles away from Champions Square.

Richardson used to run the NOPD’s Public Integrity Bureau, the agency’s internal affairs division responsible for investigating complaints made against police officers.

Richardson worked her last detail on April 2, 2022. That day, the Final Four hired her to work a detail in Woldenberg Park, and was billed $671 for an 11-hour shift. However, 45 minutes before her shift ended, a license plate-reading camera took a photo of her vehicle on the West Bank.

NOPD watchdog Skip Gallagher has been looking into the detail program for more than a year. To him, the findings are a clear violation.

“You’re not providing a service,” said Gallagher. “And you can ask a lawyer ... you can’t do that. I can’t do that at my job, right? I don’t think you can do that at yours, either.”

In November 2021, the NOPD reassigned Richardson from captain of the PIB to captain of the Third District, which covers Gentilly and Lakeview.

“She’s a captain. She does all of these things, and what happens? Is she demoted? No. Is she suspended? No. Is she terminated? No. She’s given control over a department. She’s put in charge of a district. All the police officers in that district report to her,” said Friedman. “Apparently, everybody but the chief of police knew what was going on and did nothing. And for her now to be the head of a district after all of this is shocking.”

In December, the NOPD launched an administrative investigation into more than 20 officers, including Richardson and another PIB officer, Wayne Jacque.

FOX 8 also discovered Jacque was paid for detail work while his NOPD unit was miles away from his assigned location. The NOPD tells FOX 8 the scope of its investigations into those officers were narrow, only looking to see if the officers violated one of two policies. One that limits the amount of time an officer can work in a 24-hour period, and whether they were paid for off-duty detail work and NOPD shifts at the same time.

Once the investigations were complete, Richardson and Jacque were allowed to work details again. However, soon after, the PIB received a formal complaint against Richardson related to the details.

PIB recused itself from the investigation and assigned it to Gernon, who formerly led the NOPD’s homicide division and commanded two NOPD districts. Gernon took a more thorough look, including pulling license plate readers, and found Richardson committed 44 violations, some of them possibly criminal.

After Gernon finished the investigation, the NOPD moved him to the crime lab. Some officers considered that a demotion.

NOPD Chief Shaun Ferguson says Gernon was not moved out of retaliation, but Friedman questions that.

“How did he get thanked for doing that job? He gets transferred. Not to PIB. Maybe that’s where he should have gone. But he got transferred to probably a job that was not the one that he wanted. The timing is more than coincidental. I don’t believe when they say this was not a demotion,” said Friedman.

Even though Richardson is under criminal investigation, she continues to take a public role with the NOPD and even presented an award at the recruit installment last month. The NOPD has suspended Richardson from off-duty details, pending the outcome of the criminal investigation. However, Ferguson has said Richardson doesn’t deserve any sanctions until it’s determined if she committed any violations.

“When you’re talking about the officer (not being) in the location they were paid to be in at that time, did the client or the vendor give them permission to leave?” Ferguson said. “You know, there are so many other unknown elements to this that we really have to look into. And I’m not trying to sit here to give any excuses. But there’s a lot that goes into this investigation. That is still right now an ongoing investigation.”

But Friedman says the violation of NOPD policies is enough to ask for Richardson to be removed from the State Police Commission.

“You’re under criminal investigation. In our criminal justice system, you’re presumed innocent. So, I’m not suggesting that I know that she’s guilty of a crime and therefore something should happen,” said Friedman. “But she’s certainly guilty of violating the police regulations. So, she should be stripped of this position for violating all the police regulations.”

Gov. Edwards’ office issued the following statement to FOX 8:

“The Governor may only remove an appointed member of the State Police Commission pursuant to Article 10, Section 43(D) of the Louisiana Constitution, which provides for removal only ‘for cause after being served with written specifications of the charges against him and being afforded an opportunity for a public hearing thereon by the governor.’ The Governor will determine through this constitutional process if the allegations against Capt. Richardson require removal. It would be inappropriate for the Governor to comment on the allegations against Capt. Richardson before going through the public hearing required by this provision.”

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