‘Comedy of errors’: Former NOPD chief blasts release of Vappie recordings, calls for independent investigation
Both a former NOPD chief and the attorney for the police association blasted the release of the Vappie recordings.
NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - Concerns are being raised about the investigation into NOPD Officer Jeffrey Vappie after audio recordings of questioning sessions including Public Integrity Bureau (PIB) investigators and Vappie, along with other members of New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell’s security detail, were inadvertently released to the public.
The city’s Independent Police Monitor sent federal and local officials a letter alleging that a leak has potentially compromised the NOPD’s internal investigation into officer Jeffrey Vappie.
But the City Attorney on Wednesday (March 15) took responsibility for a “mishap” that led to the materials -- which include recorded police interviews with Vappie and others -- getting out.
Former NOPD Chief Ronal Serpas, who has been calling for an independent investigation for months, said the release of the recordings is the latest in a “comedy of errors” that have plagued the investigation into Vappie.
“I can only say what I know from my 34 years of policing experience, my 14 years as a police chief, and I cannot remember one time where our internal affairs files were released to anyone, other than through a court order or until it was a completed case, and we referred it to the city attorney to defend our actions in a civil service commission or a lawsuit,” Serpas said.
Serpas originally criticized the decision to keep the investigation internal after Cantrell publicly backed Vappie at the start of the investigation.
“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 in November.
Due to Cantrell’s comments, as well as her relationship to Vappie as his superior, tainted the investigation from the onset, Serpas said.
“She exonerated, essentially, Officer Vappie’s ethical behavior before the first question was asked. I mean, these are the kinds of things that aren’t done in professional, modern day governments and professional, modern day police departments,” he said. “Doesn’t Officer Vappie deserve to have his name cleared by an independent investigation, not his boss who’s also accused of this potential misconduct?”
And Serpas raised a point: the release of the investigative materials, innocuous or not, could lead folks to not trust the PIB in future investigatory matters.
“These are files that are important. Every police officer should expect the testimony they give in internal affairs is private and protected until it’s completed,” Serpas said. “Every citizen who may give a complaint statement or witness statement should be able to expect that their information is private and protected until it’s completed.”
Eric Hessler, an attorney with the Police Association of New Orleans (PANO), agreed with Serpas.
“Any time information is prematurely released, especially in regards to witness statements which are supposed to be kept confidential, you can expect people could and should question the integrity of the investigation,” Hessler said. “If officers or witnesses believe that their information might be leaked prematurely or at all, it could compromise their willingness to come forward.”
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