Craft says officers’ criticism ‘an insult’ to department
“There is no ‘culture of corruption’ … I think these tactics are shameful and selfish.” Lafayette Police Chief Jim Craft
LAFAYETTE — In response to recent allegations by a group of officers alleging a “culture of corruption” within the Lafayette Police Department, Chief Jim Craft has issued a memo to all employees, calling the officers’ acts “an insult to the dedicated and hardworking officers who put their lives on the line each and every day.”
Craft issued the internal memo on June 5, the same day nine current and former officers filed a federal lawsuit alleging cover-ups, favoritism and disparate policies within the department, among other things. The Advocate obtained a copy of the memo Wednesday.
“With some sense of disappointment, I am writing this letter to address recent allegations by a handful of employees who allege that under my tenure as Chief, the Lafayette Police Department has been little more than a corrupt organization manipulating crime statistics, threatening employees, and practicing retribution through the use of internal investigations,” the chief wrote.
The allegations against the department first surfaced May 22, when five officers filed a temporary restraining order in state District Court seeking to stop the department from conducting an internal affairs investigation into a leaked confidential document. The lawsuit alleged, among other things, that the investigation unfairly targeted the officers and violated portions of the Policeman’s Bill of Rights.
A judge later dissolved the temporary restraining order. In response, the officers joined with four other current and former officers to file suit in federal court. Attorneys for the plaintiffs also launched a website in conjunction with the lawsuit to publicize developments in the case.
Craft is featured prominently within the lawsuit, which alleges a cover-up of the chief allegedly choking a homeless disabled man who had cursed at Craft after being arrested at Festival International de Louisiane in April 2010.
Craft refers to the officers who filed the suit as disgruntled employees who “selfishly chose to involve the media” in attempts to expose the department “to embarrassment, ridicule and unnecessary scrutiny by the public.”
Craft wrote that some of the employees involved have secretly recorded conversations with fellow officers and “are now using these clandestine recordings to further malign” the department’s reputation.
“Lies, half-truths and secret tape recordings do not become us,” Craft wrote.
Craft said the judicial system has and will weigh all information fairly before acting on these allegations.
“There is no ‘culture of corruption’ in this department, nor is there manipulation of any crime stats,” Craft wrote,.
He added that internal investigations related to wrongdoing will always be conducted, since the chief of police is required to do so by law and also noted that crime stats are a matter of public record.
“I think these tactics are shameful and selfish … The repeated futile attempts by a few disgruntled officers are designed to distort, distract and to smear the reputations of some 320 dedicated professionals who come to work to ‘make a difference every day’ in the lives of our citizens,” Craft wrote.
Craft acknowledged during a Lafayette Fire and Police Civil Service hearing Tuesday that his department is currently investigating 15 officers in connection with the leaked internal affairs document. The civil service board granted Craft a 60-day extension in that investigation.
Craft declined to issue any comments outside of the memo Wednesday.
Asked for a response to Craft’s memo, Stephen Spring, an attorney for the officers, said in an email that his clients “are not disgruntled, but courageous. Their actions in no way disrespect the Lafayette Police Department.”
Meanwhile, City-Parish President Joey Durel said he plans to request a meeting with State Police to seek advice on whether an outside agency should come into investigate some of the allegations against the department. Durel said having an outside agency conduct an investigation may help to remove any doubt from the public’s mind about whether the investigation was conducted in a fair, unbiased fashion.
However, Durel said no such investigation has been requested or ordered thus far.
“It’s premature for anyone to say that I’m going to call on State Police to do anything, because I don’t think I have the ability to that,” Durel said.
The city-parish president said it may not be appropriate to ask for such an investigation since the allegations are contained within a lawsuit that seeks damages rather than a criminal complaint.
“I need to sit down with them and ask whether these sort of allegations can be looked at,” Durel said.