The Denham Springs Police Department continues to operate without a chief or captain three weeks after its top officers were put on paid leave pending an investigation into the handling of a domestic violence call involving a city councilman.
Mayor Gerard Landry, who initially indicated he would appoint an interim chief, said Tuesday the department is operating smoothly enough under the supervision of its next-highest-ranking officers, Lt. Patrick Knab and Lt. Shannon Womack, with his oversight.
“I’ve had some conversations and offers from other law enforcement agencies, volunteering to let us borrow people, if you will,” Landry said. “But I’m so pleased and happy with the jobs our men and women are doing that, at this point, I just don’t see any reason to (appoint an interim chief).”
Landry placed Chief Scott Jones and Capt. Steve Kistler on administrative leave starting Feb. 17, pending an investigation to determine “whether department policies and procedures were properly followed in response to a domestic violence call.”
That 911 call was initiated by City Councilman Chris Davis’ wife, Robyn Davis, who had alleged that Davis hit her with the door of his truck during a heated argument Jan. 15, but later claimed it was an accident.
Chris Davis has said he did not see his wife crouched by the door and he did not hurt her intentionally.
Denham Springs officers issued an arrest warrant for Chris Davis but did not execute it, District Attorney Scott Perrilloux has said. Instead, they issued Davis a summons to appear in court.
The District Attorney’s Office then issued its own warrant for Davis’ arrest, and the councilman surrendered about a month later, after receiving mental health counseling out of state.
Perrilloux has said police should have arrested Davis to trigger bail restrictions and an automatic temporary restraining order.
Landry said Tuesday that the three-member panel he appointed to investigate the police’s handling of the case has been “hard at work, interrogating officers and pulling records and reports and what have you.”
Sitting on the panel are City Councilman and former Police Chief Jeff Wesley, city attorney Stephanie Bond Hulett and Human Resources Director Gary Watson. The panel has 60 days from the date the leave was imposed to complete the investigation, Landry said.
The time limit is imposed by a state law commonly called the Police Officer’s Bill of Rights.
The panel will make a recommendation to Landry, who will decide whether discipline is warranted. Jones and Kistler would have the right to appeal Landry’s decision to the city’s civil service board.
Neither Jones nor Kistler returned messages seeking comment.
Three weeks ago, The Advocate asked to review the personnel files for Jones and Kistler and requested records pertaining to any interaction between Davis and the department from Jan. 14 to present.
Hulett, the city attorney, initially said the Feb. 17 records request could take “up to two weeks” to complete.
Two weeks later, on March 3, Hulett said an attorney general’s opinion from 1993 indicated the city might not be allowed to release the officers’ records while the administrative investigation was pending. She said she had reached out informally to the Attorney General’s Office for clarification, but had not yet received an answer.
Reached again this week, Hulett again could not provide details about the opinion.
“I’m not trying to delay anything. I personally don’t care whether these records are released or not,” Hulett said. “But I still haven’t heard back from the Attorney General’s Office, and I can’t release anything without authorization.”
The protective order that followed Chris Davis’ arrest was dissolved Feb. 29, after Robyn Davis appeared in court, along with her husband’s attorney, retired judge Bruce Bennett, to make the request.
“The protective order is preventing my husband and I from our joint marriage counseling, my recommended participation in his therapy, going to church and all other family matters,” Robyn Davis wrote in a Feb. 19 affidavit.
Perrilloux said Davis, who has pleaded not guilty to a charge of domestic abuse battery, will participate in a domestic violence offender program.
“Typically, when they complete that, and with the victim’s consent, we dismiss the charges,” Perrilloux said.
Robyn Davis has indicated that she will not cooperate in the prosecution of her husband, writing in her affidavit to dissolve the protective order that she has “no intentions of pressing this forward and will not voluntarily testify against my husband.”
Follow Heidi R. Kinchen on Twitter, @HeidiRKinchen, and call her at (225) 336-6981.