‘So disrespectful’: Former New Orleans police chief blasts Cantrell’s support of NOPD investigation into Vappie, calls for independent probe

“If the mayor has a shred of decency, if she has a shred of respect for the men and women of the NOPD, she would be asking someone other than the NOPD to do this,” said Ronal Serpas.
Published: Nov. 10, 2022 at 11:00 PM CST
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NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - Following FOX 8 reports that confirmed the New Orleans Police Department (NOPD) had opened its own investigation into a member of Mayor LaToya Cantrell’s security detail for malfeasance, stemming from the Lee Zurik investigation showing the officer had spent hours on the clock with Cantrell in a city-owned apartment, calls continued late into the day Thursday for an independent probe to be opened.

Surveillance images show NOPD officer Jeffrey Vappie and Mayor Cantrell visiting a city-owned...
Surveillance images show NOPD officer Jeffrey Vappie and Mayor Cantrell visiting a city-owned apartment, often during the work day(French Market Corporation)

While investigating whether Mayor Cantrell was living at the city-owned Upper Pontalba Apartments, FOX 8 obtained 45 days of surveillance video from a French Market Corporation camera outside the building. That video showed Cantrell spent many hours inside the apartment, often during the workday, and sometimes stayed overnight.

As FOX 8 looked into more of the surveillance video, we found the videos show Mayor Cantrell is also spending hours there with one member of her security team, NOPD Officer Jeffrey Vappie, leading to questions about what work is being done as the two collect taxpayer-funded paychecks.

Just before Zurik’s investigation aired, the NOPD reassigned Vappie from Cantrell’s security team, and the department’s Public Integrity Bureau launched an internal investigation into whether he logged more than 16 hours and 35 minutes of work in any 24-hour period.

“If the mayor has a shred of decency, if she has a shred of respect for the men and women of the NOPD, she would be asking someone other than the NOPD to do this,” said former New Orleans Police Superintendent Ronal Serpas. “The problem is what’s going to be the reliability and validity of the investigation if it’s done by the very employer of the supervisor who made this decision with this employee.”

Serpas said Cantrell’s public backing of Vappie has already tainted any PIB-led investigation in his eyes, rendering the outcome of that investigation moot.

“My officer, in regards to Officer Jeffrey Vappie, a senior police officer within the New Orleans Police Department, over 25 years there, no doubt about that, is a valued and trusted advisor and member of my executive protection team,” Cantrell said Thursday.

“If the mayor has a shred of decency, if she has a shred of respect for the men and women of the NOPD, she would be asking someone other than the NOPD to do this. It’s a conflict of interest because the mayor has already said publicly how much she believes in the officer. Doesn’t it sound like it’s being pre-judged?” asked Serpas. “It’s so unfair to Vappie. It’s so disrespectful to the NOPD PIB, and again, if there’s any shred of decency left in this mayor, you have to let somebody else investigate that so Vappie’s name can be cleared, if it’s to be cleared.”

CONTINUING COVERAGE

ZURIK: Mayor Cantrell possibly violating policy using city-owned apartment for personal use

ZURIK: NOPD investigating officer frequently inside Cantrell’s city-owned apartment

Council members call for federal monitors to investigate Cantrell’s possible conflicts of interest

ZURIK: Calls for broader investigations into NOPD officer spending time with Mayor Cantrell outside the office

Serpas’ calls were echoed by members of the New Orleans City Council on Thursday, who wrote a letter to the federal judge overseeing implementation of NOPD’s consent decree asking for federal monitors to open an investigation.

“It’s a fiasco. It’s just a disaster,” said LSU Health Criminologist Dr. Peter Scharf, a member of the NOLA Coalition.

Scharf said the news is a major headache for a department on the upswing, and regardless of the outcome of any investigation or potential investigation, Vappie’s actions are being noticed by fellow officers.

“It’s a morale crusher. There’s no doubt,” he said. “This is a monumental distraction on a department that was doing some good stuff. I really want the city to do great things. You know, we’re coming out of this murder surge. We’re only two months out of it, beginning to get out.”

Scharf also agreed with Serpas and the councilmembers, saying an independent investigation would be needed.

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