Judge dismisses contentious suit against Lafayette Police Department

A federal judge has dismissed a lawsuit filed in 2012 by police officers who claimed the Lafayette Police Department was rife with corruption and racism, accusations that started a contentious, two-year court fight.

Judge Richard Haik on Thursday dismissed the lawsuit.

“After a meticulous review of each and every claim, a federal judge determined this lawsuit to be without merit and dismissed it,” Police Chief Jim Craft said in an emailed statement.

“Over the last two years of court proceedings involving the baseless and unfounded allegations in this lawsuit, we never lost faith in the fact that our actions were proper and legal,” Craft said. “It is truly unfortunate that the department and our community have been distracted by these distortions of fact.”

Craft was one of nine Lafayette police officers initially targeted in the suit, which was filed by 15 other Lafayette officers, plaintiffs who remain employed or who have retired from the department. Also named as defendants were Lafayette City-Parish President Joey Durel, who eventually was dropped from the litigation. Lafayette’s chief administrative officer, Dee Stanley, was a defendant until the suit’s dismissal.

Craft and Stanley declined to be interviewed Monday, citing the 30-day period during which the case could be appealed.

“What began as a 625-paragraph unwarranted assault on numerous defendants and third parties has been reduced to claims of six plaintiffs against four defendants,” city-parish attorney Michael Corry said in a motion filed in May to dismiss the case.

The lawsuit set the stage for a feud that at times was played out in the media and on a website.

The plaintiffs used a website — realcopsvcraft.com — that was created by their attorneys, Stephen Spring and Chris Alexander, to air Police Department conversations of officers who didn’t know they were being recorded, Corry wrote in court documents.

Spring did not return a message left with his office in Baton Rouge on Monday.

“We respectfully disagree with the court’s ruling,” Alexander said in a prepared statement.

He said the decision whether to appeal rests with his clients.

We have been to the 5th Circuit (Court of Appeals) before in this case, and we may be going back,” Alexander said. “That is a decision our officers will make.”

Alexander said the recordings made inside the police station offered “damning” evidence of corruption.

“It’s unfortunate that a jury will not be allowed to hear these recordings and decide the facts,” Alexander said.

Part of the case has been heard by the 5th Circuit. In September 2012, U.S. Magistrate Judge Patrick Hanna ordered the website be shut down, a decision with which Haik agreed.

In his ruling to unplug real copsvcraft.com, Hanna said the publicity caused by the website created the danger of not being able to seat an untainted jury if the case went to trial.

A three-judge panel of the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals last summer overturned Hanna’s website decision, saying the magistrate overreached and squelched defendants’ free speech rights.

On Thursday, Haik conducted a lengthy hearing and dismissed the case by granting a summary judgment.

“We are obviously pleased that this is over and we are now able to fully focus our attention on the affairs of the Lafayette Police Department,” Craft said.