LAFAYETTE — The Lafayette Police Department is “fundamentally rotten to the core” nine current and former Lafayette police officers say in a federal lawsuit filed Tuesday that alleges illegal wiretaps, cover-ups, falsified police reports and other misdeeds by superiors.
The lawsuit also says there has been retaliation against officers who have spoken out about the problems, which include assigning quotas for traffic tickets, disparate disciplinary policies, a lack of integrity in the department’s Internal Affairs Section and violations of parish and department policies.
Retaliations and reprisals for violating an unwritten “code of silence” by speaking out include threats, punitive transfers to night duty or to the northside of Lafayette, attempted set-ups and repossession of newly issued weapons, the lawsuit said.
Lafayette police Cpl. Paul Mouton said the department could not comment on the suit. He deferred comment to City-Parish Attorney Mike Hebert, who also declined comment.
As an example of the department’s alleged disparate discipline and its “code of silence,” the lawsuit points to an incident involving an alleged cover-up involving Police Chief Jim Craft, who, the lawsuit says, beat a one-legged homeless man during an incident at Festival International de Louisiane in April 2010.
The lawsuit accuses Craft of having consumed at least one alcoholic beverage before he encountered the man, who was handcuffed and sitting in a chair while waiting to be transported after his arrest. After the man cursed Craft, Craft allegedly jumped on the man and began to choke him for about 30 seconds before Craft’s wife came to the man’s aid, the lawsuit said.
Five police officers witnessed the alleged incident, according to the lawsuit.
A police report about the man’s arrest “falsely and completely omitted the entire encounter between Craft and the homeless and disabled individual,” the lawsuit said.
The lawsuit also said a rookie officer was suspended for five days without pay for an incident that occurred during March 2010 when the officer exercised excessive force on a teenager, while “Craft’s full-scale beat down of a defenseless, unarmed, one-legged homeless and disabled man has been completely covered up, and no discipline has ever been undertaken or even considered.”
The officers also allege their telephone conversations were intercepted or monitored without their consent through a “systemic eavesdropping, non-consensual wire intercept device operated by the Internal Affairs Division.”.
The lawsuit names Craft, Maj. George “Jackie” Alfred, Lafayette City-Parish President Joey Durel and Chief Administrative Officer Dee Stanley as defendants.
Attorney Chris Alexander, who is representing the plaintiffs along with attorney Stephen Spring, said the plaintiffs believe the federal court has jurisdiction over the claims because they involve constitutional issues. Taking the case to federal court also will help ensure the case will move “beyond the realm of local politics,” Alexander said.
“We are here because we believe these gentlemen have very compelling claims and when you have a system in which you have institutional retribution and retaliation against officers simply because they have the courage to come forward and do the right thing, that’s a frightening scenario in the United States of America and that’s why we’re here,” Alexander said.
The plaintiffs in the case are identified as Kane Marceaux, Greg Cormier, Scott Poiencot, Norbert Myers, Gabe Thompson, Novey Stelly, Uletom Hewitt, Regina Briscoe and Aleeta Harding.
Mouton said all but Hewitt and Briscoe are employed by the department.
“We have every reason to trust in the credibility of these officers who have outstanding stellar careers,” Alexander said.
The officers first filed a lawsuit May 23 in state District Court, where they sought a temporary restraining order in an attempt to stop a Police Department investigation into a leaked internal affairs document.
The temporary restraining order was dissolved last week after a hearing before 15th Judicial District Judge Kristian Earles.
The lawsuit also alleges that:
- Members of the Lafayette Police Department’s SWAT team lied during an internal affairs investigation, but the officers were not disciplined for fear that doing so could severely compromise their credibility when testifying in court in criminal proceedings.
- Lt. Dewayne Prejean, the head of the department’s Internal Affairs Section, was appointed by Craft after Craft struck a deal with Prejean’s wife, a practicing attorney, who had successfully represented police officers in hearings before the Lafayette Municipal Fire and Police Civil Service Board. In exchange for Prejean’s promotion, Prejean’s wife would refuse to accept any more police officers as clients.
- Craft sought to stall an internal affairs investigation into an incident involving Maj. Glenn Dartez so Dartez would have time to retire and receive substantial benefits from his retirement and sick leave.
- A police captain tipped off his relative who had been targeted in an undercover drug investigation. The same officer later was accused of attempting to frame a fellow officer by removing evidence from the department’s evidence room. An internal affairs investigation was terminated and no one was ever disciplined in that incident.