Devall asks federal judge to hold Hammond board in contempt

An attorney for Hammond Police Chief Roddy Devall says the city’s civil service board violated his rights, the state’s open meetings law and a federal restraining order by conducting an investigation against him without giving him a chance to participate.

Attorney Jill Craft filed a motion for contempt Thursday in federal district court in New Orleans against the Hammond Municipal Fire and Police Civil Service Board and its chairman, David Danel.

Craft’s motion claims the board violated a June 18 restraining order, issued by U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier, when it held a special meeting June 30 to discuss and take action on an investigation conducted by PMI Resource, of Shreveport, into complaints lodged against Devall.

The complaints concern the case of Hammond police officer Jennifer Payne, who was arrested April 25 on allegations of “doctor shopping” for prescription drugs. Payne’s address and photograph were distributed to the media, along with a news release concerning her arrest.

Payne later lodged a complaint with the board, contending the release of her personal information violated her rights under the state’s “police bill of rights.”

On May 15, the civil service board discussed the case in executive session, then placed Devall on paid administrative leave for 30 days and ordered that he have no contact with any city employees.

Craft, on Devall’s behalf, filed a lawsuit June 12 challenging the board’s action and seeking the chief’s reinstatement.

Judge Barbier ruled that the board’s failure to hold a hearing before taking action against Devall violated his rights.

Barbier ordered that Devall be reinstated and that no further action be taken against him without a proper hearing.

In her motion for contempt Thursday, Craft said PMI’s investigation interviews were conducted without notice to Devall or an opportunity for him to question the witnesses.

Also, Craft said, the agenda for the board’s June 30 meeting did not specifically identify the chief’s case by his name, but rather referred only to a “May 2014 investigation.”

The board concluded during the June 30 meeting that the release of Payne’s information violated state law, that the department’s public spokesman who issued the news release had never been properly trained for his duties and that Devall instructed the spokesman to release the information.

Based on those findings, the board set a July 14 disciplinary hearing for Devall and the department spokesman, Lt. Vince Giannobile.

“The board has improperly acted as both adjudicator, prosecutor and investigator throughout the course of the investigation and proceedings,” Craft said in her motion.

“The board has failed to conduct a ‘lawful’ investigation as ordered by this court.”

The contempt motion asks the judge to void the board’s actions, as well as award attorney’s fees and costs.

Follow Heidi R. Kinchen on Twitter @HeidiRKinchen.