La. Supreme Court upholds firing of Abbeville officer in stun gun accident

The Louisiana Supreme Court upheld the firing of an Abbeville police officer who accidently discharged a Taser stun gun and hit a student during a 2010 classroom demonstration.

In the high court’s ruling this month, justices reversed a 2013 3rd Circuit Court of Appeal ruling that reinstated Officer Julie Gaspard to Abbeville’s police force.

A three-judge 3rd Circuit panel found that one of Gaspard’s due process rights was violated when a recording of an officer who investigated the classroom incident was not given to Gaspard.

The Supreme Court found the 3rd Circuit’s reasoning faulty.

“We find the fact that the recording could not be produced does not effectively prove (the officer’s) statement was not recorded,” the Supreme Court said in the ruling.

“According to the plain language of the statute, Ms. Gaspard is only entitled to request a copy of her own statement and … the question of whether or not (the investigating officer’s) statement was actually recorded is of no consequence,” the justices wrote.

A call to C. Theodore Alpaugh III, Gaspard’s attorney, was not immediately returned Friday afternoon.

Gaspard was an Abbeville police officer assigned to J.H. Williams Middle School as a school resource officer. During a school room demonstration on Sept. 22, 2010, she accidently fired the stun gun while taking it out of her holster.

One of two electrodes struck a sixth-grade girl, while the other hit the floor. Because both electrified probes must hit a person to incapacitate him or her, the sixth-grader was relatively unharmed.

“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 (Gaspard) did not fully disclose the truth of how the accident occurred,” according to the court narrative.

Gaspard was fired. She applied for a review by a state district judge, who ruled Abbeville Police Chief Tony Hardy followed the law when he fired her.

Gaspard appealed to the 3rd Circuit, and in November, the appellate court overturned the district judge’s ruling.

The Supreme Court, in a March 14 ruling, settled the argument and overturned the 3rd Circuit’s decision.

The high court said the law is clear: A police officer under investigation has the right to obtain a transcribed or recorded account of his or her interview but not the contents of others’ interviews.

“We find nothing in the language to suggest that Gaspard is entitled to a copy of all statements made during an investigation,” the ruling stated.

Chief Hardy did not return a message left at his office Friday.