When Officer Reese Jenkins was injured on the job this year, he was floored by the number of calls and outpouring of support he received from his colleagues in the Baton Rouge Police Department.
Concerned co-workers donated some $500 to aid his recovery, entrusting their contributions to David K. Stewart, an officer who spread the word via email of Jenkins’ “financial demands” and the overwhelming circumstances he faced.
While he was flattered by the response, it struck Jenkins as odd that the hat was being passed by Stewart, an officer with whom he was not particularly close.
“We never talk about my finances,” he later told an investigator.
Jenkins’ superiors shared his misgivings and began investigating Stewart this summer on suspicion of theft and malfeasance in office after Stewart kept the contributions for himself for several weeks.
Even though Stewart misled Jenkins about a credit union account that didn’t exist, detectives could prove no “criminal intent” in his actions and were told by a prosecutor recently that they didn’t have a case, according to police records.
An internal investigation, however, concluded Stewart committed “conduct unbecoming an officer,” prompting Chief Carl Dabadie to suspend him for three days. The Advocate reviewed the investigative records Tuesday, following their release in response to a public records request filed last month.
Efforts to reach Stewart on his cellphone Tuesday for comment were unsuccessful.
Dabadie did not respond to a request to discuss the case and the disciplinary action he chose. In an address to the Baton Rouge Rotary Club last month, he said he was trying to bring a greater level of accountability to the department “to ensure that we are producing the best possible service for this community.”
“It’s time that people be held accountable,” Dabadie said. “We’re going to do that, and we have been doing that.”
The Police Department began concurrent investigations in June after Jenkins, 37, returned to work from an injury that required arm surgery and had sidelined him since February.
The internal affairs inquiry sought to determine if Stewart had run afoul of any departmental policies, while detectives separately investigated whether he had broken any Louisiana laws.
The department routinely handles criminal investigations involving its own employees and only rarely calls upon an outside agency to conduct an independent inquiry.
On April 15, Stewart sent an email beseeching his colleagues to consider Jenkins in their prayers, and with their wallets.
Supervisors found the message unusual, but Stewart told them he had received approval to send it to the department.
“We have an officer in need,” the email said of Jenkins. “His circumstances are indeed overwhelming and are becoming worse because of financial demands.”
The message elicited a series of concerned calls and text messages from Jenkins’ brothers in blue. One came from Lt. Chris Becnel, of the Baker Police Department.
Baffled, Jenkins told Becnel he hadn’t told anyone he needed financial help, documents show.
Jenkins is quoted in police records as saying he was “doing fine” and knew where to turn if he ended up in a bind.
Nevertheless, Stewart was collecting cash contributions from a number of officers.
Two wrote checks for $100. Stewart also wrote a $100 check, but never gave any of the money to Jenkins, even after he returned to work.
After Stewart sent out the email, Dabadie’s secretary, Michelle Iverson, suggested the contributions be held in an account at the City-Parish Employees’ Federal Credit Union. Previous collections for officers wounded in the line of duty have been kept in such accounts.
At some point, after Jenkins called to thank Stewart for leading the collection effort, Stewart said that some of the donations had been deposited at the credit union.
But records show that when the recovering officer went there to collect them, he was informed that no account had been created in his name.
Stewart declined to provide a statement to detectives during the criminal investigation but told internal affairs officers he had been keeping the donations in an envelope at home.
“It’s been sitting up on my shelf where I keep my keys in my apartment, and for some odd reason I just kept forgetting it,” Stewart is quoted as telling internal affairs officers. “I wish I had brought it two weeks ago and I wouldn’t be in this mess.”
He added, “Man, I hope that fella don’t think I stole that money.”
The contributions were turned over to detectives as evidence, and it wasn’t clear from records whether Jenkins ever received any of the money.
Department emails show Jenkins requested at one point that the money be given to John Colter, a detective who was seriously injured in a motorcycle crash over the summer.
The three-day suspension wasn’t the first time Stewart has been admonished by his supervisors. He was verbally counseled last year after pulling over an off-duty Baton Rouge police officer for speeding and driving erratically in Livingston Parish.
The traffic stop, which occurred outside Stewart’s jurisdiction, was followed by a heated exchange between the officers that was captured on Stewart’s dashboard camera.