Abbeville officer’s return still uncertain
LAFAYETTE — A former Abbeville police officer fired in 2010 after she accidently discharged a Taser stun gun in a class and hit a sixth-grader should be allowed to return to her job, a state appellate court ruled this week.
A three-judge panel of the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeal released its ruling Wednesday that one of the state’s due process laws was not followed during an investigation of Julie Gaspard, who as an Abbeville police officer worked as a school resource officer at J.H. Williams Middle School.
“Police officers have due process rights just like regular people,” said C. Theodore Alpaugh III, Gaspard’s New Orleans attorney. Alpaugh said Thursday that Gaspard was very happy about the ruling.
Alpaugh also said it’s up to Abbeville and its Police Department on when Gaspard would return to work and what that law enforcement job would be.
Police Chief Tony Harding’s office said Harding declined to comment because the department still has the option of asking the Louisiana Supreme Court to review the case.
On Sept. 22, 2010, during a demonstration to students, Gaspard was unholstering her stun gun when it fired.
One of the two probes hit a sixth-grade girl while the other probe hit the floor, according to a narrative of the 3rd Circuit’s ruling, written by Judge Marc T. Amy.
The student did not receive the weapon’s shock because both probes are needed to deliver the debilitating electrical current.
“Ultimately, the Internal Affairs Board determined that Officer Gaspard ‘did not follow departmental policies when she improperly used and deployed a Taser X26, which resulted in the injury of a child’ and that she ‘did not fully disclose the truth of how the accident occurred,’ ” the court document says.
Based on the internal affairs findings, Gaspard’s firing was upheld by the Abbeville Fire and Police Civil Service Board, the Abbeville City Council and a 15th Judicial District judge.
The 3rd Circuit found, however, that investigators didn’t follow state law in their procedures leading to Gaspard’s firing.
Sgt. Jason Hebert, who trains Abbeville officers in stun gun usage, was assigned to investigate the incident.
Officials failed to record Hebert’s testimony to the internal affairs board.
“All interrogations of any police employee or law enforcement officer in connection with the investigation shall be recorded in full,” the 3rd Circuit said, quoting state law.
Though Gaspard’s testimony was recorded, Hebert’s was not, a point on which Gaspard made her appeal.
The 3rd Circuit agreed, saying state law “does not limit the necessity of recording to the police employee or law enforcement officer under investigation.
“Rather, it broadly provides that in the event a police employee or law enforcement officer is under investigation, ‘all interrogations of any police employee or law enforcement officer … shall be recorded in full,’ ” Amy wrote.