ZURIK: Internal NOPD report released on former lieutenant now under federal investigation

Published: Dec. 5, 2022 at 11:18 PM CST
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NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - The City of New Orleans has released an internal report on a former New Orleans police captain who was the subject of a series of Fox 8 investigations into potential double-dipping and payroll discrepancies.

Sabrina Richardson was suspended based on the findings that raise more questions about possible ethical conflicts within the department.

NOPD Capt. Nick Gernon was tasked with putting together a 121-page report on Richardson. That report found 44 instances of Richardson breaking policy and potentially the law.

As Fox 8 reported last year, after Gernon submitted his report, NOPD Supt. Shaun Ferguson re-assigned him from the head of the homicide division to the crime lab, a move many in the NOPD considered a demotion.

The NOPD said Gernon was not demoted, but merely shifted to fill a hole in the department.

Tulane University Emeritus Law Professor Joel Friedman said Gernon appeared to be a thorough investigator.

“Gernon did his job, when he’s not even in (the Public Integrity Bureau), but they asked him to do it anyway,” Friedman said. “And he did his job. And 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. You know, I don’t believe when they say, ‘This was not a demotion, this was not retribution.’ He should be the poster boy for how you investigate these kinds of things. He should be the one in front of the recruiting class. He should be the one in charge of PIB, because he knows how to investigate.”

In the investigation, Gernon used license plate-reading cameras across the city, as Fox 8 also did in its investigation. Gernon found seven instances of Richardson’s car in various parts of the city while she claimed to be working an off-duty detail elsewhere.

For instance, Richardson was scheduled to work a detail at Champions Square for the Bayou Classic on Nov. 27, 2021. But license plate-reading camera images obtained by Gernon and our team showed her car on the West Bank and later in New Orleans East during the middle of that shift.

Gernon thought Richardson’s apparent violations were serious enough to call for a criminal investigation by the Orleans Parish District Attorney’s office. So, he brought his findings to a meeting. At that meeting, the head of the PIB at the time was civilian Deputy Supt. Arlinda Westbrook.

Last year, Fox 8 interviewed Westbrook, who repeatedly told us she recused herself from the investigation into Richardson, since Richardson committed many of the violations while she worked for Westbrook at the PIB.

Westbrook was asked about the license plate readers Gernon used for the Richardson investigation.

“I recused myself from that investigation, so I’m not aware of that,” Westbrook said. “I don’t know yet. Because the other investigations haven’t been forwarded to me (about) what steps we use. I know in that particular, whenever we look at that, it’s because there’s an allegation. Because we have, somewhere, there are allegations of officers leaving early. Then you may look at something like that.”

Westbrook said she recused herself. But, according to Gernon’s investigative report, Westbrook was at a meeting on the Richardson case. And when Gernon asked to make this a criminal instead of an administrative investigation, Westbrook told him to keep it administrative.

That limited what investigative techniques Gernon could use. He wanted to request cell phone records, to see if Richardson was in locations where she claimed to work. But Westbrook, who again told us she recused herself from the investigation, prevented that.

Gernon’s investigation found 18 overlapped shifts where Richardson worked a detail and duty shift at the same time. And 18 violations of the policy that limits the amount of time an officer can work within a 24-hour period.

Richardson told Gernon many of the findings were miscommunications or inadvertent overlooks.

The NOPD demoted Richardson from captain to lieutenant and suspended her for 120 days. She is now under federal investigation for violations that an NOPD investigator found were possibly criminal in nature.

Westbrook was reassigned to the chief’s administrative office in September.

An NOPD spokesman told Fox 8 on Monday night, “The meeting you are referring is the meeting in which Chief Westbrook recused herself from the investigation and moved the case to the Professional Standards and Accountability Bureau. After this meeting, Chief Westbrook was replaced by Otha Sandifer, deputy chief over PSAB. Sandifer replaced Westbrook as reviewer of the investigation and chair for the disciplinary hearing.”

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