COVINGTON — After further review, criminal charges against two high school football officials will be dropped.
Covington Mayor Mike Cooper and the city’s newly appointed police chief, Tim Lentz, announced the decision Thursday at City Hall.
“The request to reject the charges was made late Wednesday evening and confirmed (Thursday) morning by District Attorney Walter Reed,” Cooper said.
“It is my goal to put this matter behind us and gain credibility for the Covington Police Department under its new leadership and restore a positive image.”
The announcement came six days after James Radcliffe and Chris Gambino, both of Metairie, were arrested in the third quarter of a game between St. Paul’s and Mandeville.
The two were trying to get help from police to deal with crowd control on the visitors’ sideline of the game played at St. Paul’s.
They were charged with public intimidation of a public officer and spent the night in jail in Covington before being released early Saturday morning.
“We are very pleased that they dropped the charges,” said Eddie Allemore, president of the Greater New Orleans Football Officials Association.
“That’s what we were hoping for.”
Cooper said he spoke with officials with the Louisiana High School Athletic Association, St. Paul’s and the Greater New Orleans Football Association this week.
“I gave them my assurances that I would work for a quick close to this important matter,” he said.
The announcement came on Lentz’s second day as chief.
“We called the two officials and informed them of the developments and offered them our sincerest apologies,” Lentz said. “They both accepted our apologies. We apologize with all our hearts for the events that took place Friday night. It should’ve been handled differently.”
Lentz was in the stands when the incident occurred.
“Fortunately or unfortunately, I was sitting in the stands that night like 3,000 other folks,” he said. “I was just shaking my head. I tried to wrap my head around it all weekend and reserved my comments until I saw some of the events that were documented, trying to justify what would make them arrest two referees. I couldn’t come up with anything.”
Lentz and Cooper both made public apologies to those involved.
“On behalf of the city of Covington, I would like to offer sincere apologies to Mr. Radcliffe and Mr. Gambino and to the officials of the Greater New Orleans Football Officials Association,” Cooper said.
“And to St. Paul’s and Mandeville and anyone else affected by this situation in the manner this was handled. We all agree it could’ve easily been handled differently.”
Lentz wouldn’t say whether the arresting officer — Stephen Short, according to the police report — would face any disciplinary action.
“My concentration (Wednesday) was the incident at St. Paul’s,” Lentz said. “It really became apparent that things should’ve been handled differently. My focus was on restoring the credibility of this unit.
“I will now look at it from an administrative standpoint and take the necessary actions. I ask that you grant me patience while I do that.”
Lentz added the officer regrets his actions.
“He is remorseful, and he is apologetic,” Lentz said. “He realizes now that things should’ve been handled differently.”
Thursday’s announcement came just two days after Jack West, who was serving as interim police chief, told The New Orleans Advocate there were several witnesses and video that supported Short’s actions.
So what changed?
“What has changed is that Capt. West was on his last day as interim chief,” Cooper said. “The second thing is Tim Lentz became chief of police of Covington on Wednesday.
“He reviewed what information we had and we came to the conclusion to make the request to the district attorney.”
During the 2011 mayoral campaign that ushered Cooper into office, residents complained the Police Department had spiraled out of control, and Cooper pledged reforms. Lawsuits alleging police brutality piled up, and two officers were charged after roughing up people in separate incidents.
Cooper suspended then-Chief Richard Palmisano for several months in early 2012, then fired him in April, noting that two additional officers had been arrested for using unnecessary force against a shoplifter.
Cooper said the Police Department will continue to work security detail at St. Paul’s games. That came a day after Cooper, Lentz and Allemore announced those duties would be handled by St. Tammany Parish sheriff’s deputies.
“The Covington Police Department,” Cooper said, “will continue its longstanding relationships that it has established with its high schools in providing safety and security 24-7, 365.”