Zurik: Officer Vappie’s unusual reassignment under internal investigation

Published: May. 2, 2023 at 10:52 PM CDT
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NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - New Orleans police officer Jeffrey Vappie was removed from Mayor LaToya Cantrell’s security detail in November 2022 amid a series of Fox 8 investigations.

Those reports focused on his time spent with the mayor, both on and off the clock, while inside the city-owned Upper Pontalba Apartment in the French Quarter. Our reports also revealed Vappie regularly clocked long hours while serving on Cantrell’s executive protection team.

When the NOPD announced Vappie’s reassignment, they did not specify where he was moved. However, the department recently confirmed to Fox 8 that Vappie was reassigned to the Orleans Parish Communications District, which runs the city’s 911 system.

Dillard University political analyst Dr. Robert Collins says reassigning an officer to a department outside the NOPD is unusual.

“We do know when a police officer is under PIB (Public Integrity Bureau) investigation, generally, they’re taken off of their normal day-to-day job, and they’re moved to a different position,” Collins said. “Even if he was given a desk job within the homicide bureau or something like this, certainly his talents could have been employed in some sort of actual law enforcement, crime-fighting function.

“I’m not sure, you know, how his talents could be employed over at the communications district.”

On Nov. 10, 2022, the day after Vappie was reassigned, his timesheets show he started working a new shift, from 7 p.m. to 3:35 a.m.

Fox 8 wanted to know what his duties were at the 911 center.

We requested records from the OPCD, asking for swipe card logs for Vappie entering the building and any documents that might detail the work he did. OPCD director Tyrell Morris told us no records exist.

Collins says he finds it hard to believe that there are no documents, video or swipe-card entries to back up Vappie’s work.

“I don’t think that’s believable at all,” Collins said. “I just can’t see any way that that’s possible.

“There have to be some records of him coming and going. There have to be some records of the work that he did while he was there, some sort of clocking in and out. There has to be video surveillance of him coming and going. I mean, this is the standard procedure of every first responder agency in the United States. So, it’s not believable, unless they turned off the security cameras and turned off their ID readers while he was there, which is also not believable.”

OUTSIDE THE OFFICE

Cantrell’s security team lacks written policies, chain of command, audit finds

Recordings reveal Cantrell administration tried to reinstate Vappie to security team while under NOPD investigation

Former Cantrell protectors describe holding mayor’s purse, doing her shopping, chauffeuring daughter

Inspector General recommends renting Pontalba apartment to the public

Fox 8 asked Morris if he could give us details as to what Vappie’s work assignments were. However, he told us that since Vappie is an NOPD employee, the NOPD would be the agency to answer questions about his work.

Fox 8 then asked the NOPD what Vappie’s duties were at OPCD and how many days he worked there. The NOPD would only tell us, “Officer Vappie’s duties were assigned by the previous administration.”

Rafael Goyeneche, president of the Metropolitan Crime Commission, says without more details from the NOPD and OPCD, it is impossible to know what Vappie was doing.

“The answer is obviously that the police department, the City of New Orleans, Tyrell Morris and the Communications District don’t want to describe or explain what he did,” Goyeneche said. “And that raises questions.

“Did he do anything? Was he just reassigned? Did he ever report for work? Or did he just collect a paycheck? We don’t know. Those are questions that the Inspector General will pose. Those are questions that I think the public is entitled to know in this. So, we’ll have to see how this plays out.”

Vappie stopped working at OPCD in late December 2022. The NOPD told Fox 8 that interim NOPD Supt. Michelle Woodfork reassigned him to her department’s asset forfeiture unit.

Goyeneche says Woodfork’s decision to move Vappie again upon taking office raises more questions about why he was assigned to OPCD in the first place, and if the decision to place him there could have been influenced by Mayor Cantrell.

“The other unusual component of this [is] when the mayor decided to empanel a Violent Crime Task Force,” Goyeneche said. “Normally, the head of that would be the police department or possibly the city crime czar or someone like that. She appointed Tyrell Morris, the communications district head, to lead that initiative. So, that obviously indicates that the mayor has a unique and very high opinion and a degree of influence with Tyrell Morris in the communications district.

“The question becomes, ‘Did the mayor express to Tyrell Morris that she would like to see Officer Vappie assigned to his organization?’ And, if so, what was said, and how was that accomplished?”

Vappie’s resume doesn’t list any prior work at the 911 call center. Goyeneche says Cantrell and Morris should answer questions about Vappie’s reassignment and the duties he performed.

“Did somebody request that he be reassigned there? If so, what were his duties? Did he report to work? Did he sign in? Is there any way of confirming when he reported to work and when he left work? Who authorized and approved his timesheets that he was doing?” Goyeneche asked. “If he was assigned to duty and had to respond to calls in some capacity on behalf of the communications district, where are the reports that confirm how many calls he responded to and what his duties were? So right now, we have more questions than we have answers about it.”

Fox 8 previously confirmed that in late December, someone within City Hall tried to have Vappie placed back on Cantrell’s executive protection team while he was still under internal investigation. The federal consent decree monitor said when his team found out, it contacted members of the NOPD’s leadership team, who quickly quashed that effort.

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