Federal monitors tell judge NOPD’s investigation into Officer Vappie was tainted from beginning
The controversy comes as the city of New Orleans fights to remove itself from the consent decree.
NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - As the New Orleans Police Department (NOPD) and the city work to exit the federal consent decree, imposed by the Department of Justice (DOJ) more than 10 years ago and governing reforms at the department, NOPD’s internal affairs process is coming under question.
During a status hearing in federal court Wednesday afternoon, consent decree monitors went through their findings following a Public Integrity Bureau (PIB) investigation into Officer Jeffrey Vappie.
Vappie, a member of Mayor LaToya Cantrell’s security detail, was the subject of a series of Lee Zurik investigations highlighting the hours Vappie spent, both on and off duty, with the mayor inside the city-owned Upper Pontalba apartment.
PIB opened an investigation following the revelations. The investigation ultimately sustained three violations committed by Vappie, and a city attorney said Wednesday that a “letter of reprimand” was issued to Vappie.
The investigation concluded Vappie violated a “performance of duty” rule when he worked more than 16 hours and 35 minutes on several days.
But it was another tense federal court session, with the monitors and DOJ squaring off against an attorney for the city. The city filed a response to the monitor’s report, and in court Wednesday questioned the monitor’s involvement in the Vappie investigation and the integrity of the monitoring team.
“He has attacked me, that’s what they do when they don’t have facts on their side,” said Jonathan Aronie, the lead federal monitor, during court. “There should be no question about my integrity. This case isn’t about bodyguards and Vappie, it’s about accountability.”
The monitor’s report found PIB committed nine violations of policy, starting with not including the allegation of “payroll fraud” in its intake paperwork.
Aronie said, by not investigating Vappie for potential payroll fraud, the investigation was tainted from the beginning. He added that both Cantrell and NOPD Consultant Fausto Pichardo, who Vappie was assigned to protect at times, were important witnesses who were not interviewed by PIB.
The investigation also failed to properly consider circumstantial evidence and the possibility that a relationship exceeding friendship could have existed between the Mayor and Vappie, Aronie said.
The city insists investigators with the PIB faced pressure by the Monitoring Team, who it insists had a desired predetermined outcome. Still, the city said investigators completed a thorough and accurate investigation, despite the alleged bias from the monitors.
“[They need to] stay in their lane, stay focused on the consent decree,” Cantrell said during a press conference Wednesday. “I know we’re at a place of substantial completion [of the consent decree] and when you think about some of the areas they’re zoning in on, bias free policing is one of them. Then getting outside of their lane relative to investigations and being biased.”
Aronie responded to the Mayor’s comments during a virtual town hall immediately following the court hearing.
“If this isn’t our lane, I don’t know what is,” he said. “I am a federal monitor. I’ve been doing this for 10 years. No one’s ever questioned my integrity before, but [the city attorney] is going to say what he’s going to say, and we’ll let the facts in the report speak for themselves.”
Judge Susie Morgan will hear arguments from both sides next Wednesday at 9 a.m. when the city will advocate for its motion to remove itself from the consent decree entirely. If the motion fails, the city appears ready to move forward with an appeal to Morgan’s decision.
See a spelling or grammar error in our story? Click Here to report it. Please include the headline.
Subscribe to the Fox 8 YouTube channel.
Copyright 2023 WVUE. All rights reserved.