Small town of Duson has big list of police chief problems

Duson has a history with police chiefs.

There was Tom Deville, accused of ignoring a large local drug ring while serving as chief in the 1990s and convicted in 2000 on federal drug charges.

Former Chief Joseph Johnfore was booked in 2009 on charges of malfeasance and theft in an investigation into $5,100 in missing traffic ticket fines. He resigned, citing a lack of trust on the part of town officials, but a grand jury declined to indict him in the case.

And this week, the Duson Town Council voted unanimously to fire Johnfore’s replacement, Frank Andrew, who faced questions about whether he was gambling on the clock.

“The record of Duson, it has been terrible,” Duson Mayor Johnny Thibodeaux said.

Thibodeaux declined comment on the reasons for Andrew’s firing, but the former chief’s attorney, Marcus Allen, said Andrew was accused of playing video poker while on duty — an allegation Allen challenges.

Someone complained about seeing Andrew’s unmarked cruiser outside a video poker establishment, Allen said, but the chief considered himself on call rather than on duty.

Allen said Andrew is on call 24 hours a day but should still be able to do what he wishes when he is not officially on the clock.

“You tell me a man can’t legally gamble on his off time?” Allen asked.

The attorney said he is unsure what Andrew’s next step will be, but he believes the state’s Police Officer’s Bill of Rights required the town council to give Andrew more advance notice of the vote to fire him on Tuesday and more information on the complaint against him.

“We are going to respond appropriately,” Allen said. “We didn’t go there expecting termination.”

Allen said the mayor and Andrew “haven’t seen eye to eye in some time.”

Andrew had taken a leave of absence earlier this year, citing stress, but he had since returned to the department.

Regardless of the outcome, Thibodeaux said the episode could renew discussions about how the city handles its policing and selects its police chief.

As the investigation of Johnfore was unfolding in 2009, the town successfully sought state legislation that changed the police chief’s job from an elected to an appointed position.

The change gave the council authority over hiring and firing the chief, but Thibodeaux said he believes the majority of the town’s roughly 1,700 residents would like to return the chief’s job to an elected one.

“They want to have input on who is the chief of police,” he said.

Thibodeaux said he is torn on the appointed versus elected issue but it might need to be revisited if that’s what the residents really want.

“It’s the consensus of the people that really matters,” he said.

The mayor also said there is talk of doing away with the local police department and asking the Lafayette Parish Sheriff’s Office to take over law enforcement in the town.

“We are such a small community,” he said.

For now, the town will move forward with the search for a new chief and could fill the position as early as the council’s next meeting in August, Thibodeaux said.

Officer Joe Caillet has been named interim chief pending a hiring decision.