HAMMOND — A former Southeastern Louisiana University police officer who alleges retaliation and discrimination led to her termination in April testified Thursday she never had any trouble at her job until she complained of racism in the department.
Angela Jones, who was employed with the university’s police department for more than a decade, said at her Civil Service appeal hearing that she was repeatedly written up, suspended without pay and put under internal investigation after she filed a grievance in January 2012 alleging she was passed over for promotion because of her race.
Jones, who is black, was promoted from parking guard to police officer within weeks of her grievance after the leading candidate declined the job.
She was fired April 2 based on poor performance evaluations and a string of incidents her supervisors said demonstrated unprofessionalism and abuse of authority. She has appealed her termination, seeking back pay and reinstatement.
Civil Service referee Brent Frederick took the case under advisement and will issue a ruling within 60 days.
Jones said the parking guard and police officer 1 position she last held involved essentially the same duties, but her annual performance evaluations took a nosedive after her promotion, plummeting from ratings of “exceeds expectations” to “needs improvement — unsatisfactory.”
Her supervisor, Sgt. Kevin Knudsen, said Jones’ ratings fell because she failed to meet the minimum standards for her new position. Jones alleges that her evaluations, write-ups and investigations were instead the result of former Chief Mike Prescott’s dislike for her and his continued influence over the department following his resignation in July 2012.
Frederick, the referee, said events involving Prescott, who was no longer with the university when Jones was fired, were relevant to the appeal only to the extent they could be connected to the precise reasons for Jones’ termination.
Knudsen testified Wednesday that Jones repeatedly failed to use proper techniques in working the crosswalks, despite two rounds of training; refused to issue parking tickets for offenses she deemed minor; and detained a student without authority or probable cause.
Jones also told a new officer that Knudsen and other department members who used to work for the Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Office were “gangsters” and “mob bosses” and shouldn’t be trusted, and that she would not ride along with Knudsen because she feared he might shoot her and later claim she had tried to take his gun.
Jones testified that Knudsen, interim Chief Carmen Bray and Capt. Mike McGill were Prescott’s buddies, doing Prescott’s bidding after his departure. She said her superiors constantly harassed her in an effort to make her quit or create the paper trail that would lead to her firing.
O’Neil De Noux, an investigator with SLU’s police department, testified in support of that allegation Wednesday. He said the department’s upper ranks had used the internal affairs process to harass and weed out previous employees Prescott did not like. By the time they got to Jones, it was a well-oiled machine, De Noux said.
None of the internal investigations ever substantiated any claims against Jones, De Noux said. A presidential ad hoc committee later ruled that Prescott’s insistence on reopening those charges after the investigators completed their work constituted harassment.
However, the committee did not conclude Jones had been the subject of discrimination or retaliation in those instances, the committee’s chairman, Duane Donald, testified.
A former administrative assistant with the police department, Rasheda Gandolfo, said supervisors definitely treated some employees more harshly than others.
Gandolfo testified Wednesday that some employees would “get slapped on the wrist” for wrecking the department’s golf cart or missing crosswalk duty, while Jones was “hounded daily” for much smaller offenses.
Racial tensions were noted in a security analyst’s October 2013 report compiled in anticipation of the university’s search for a chief to replace Prescott.
Willie Bell Jr., of Higher Education Security Consulting in Sanford, N.C., found that the department was riddled with morale problems stemming in part from perceived cronyism, a lack of diversity and an internal affairs process some employees said was used to mete out unequal punishment.
Bell found that, more than a year after Prescott’s departure, the department remained divided into factions of those who supported and those who didn’t support the former chief.
Jones’ allegations have been the focal point of several lawsuits.
Prescott, McGill and Knudsen have filed federal lawsuits against the University of Louisiana System Board of Supervisors, which oversees SLU, alleging racial discrimination, retaliation and that Jones created a hostile work environment. Jones in turn has sued each of the officers.
Prescott’s case went to trial earlier this month. A jury found Oct. 7 that Prescott had not been harassed because of his race; nor did the university’s refusal to rehire him violate his rights.
Also on Oct. 7, Jones and Gandolfo filed a federal discrimination lawsuit against the ULS Board, Prescott, Knudsen, McGill, former interim chief Carmen Bray and former Human Resources Director Kevin Brady.
Follow Heidi R. Kinchen on Twitter @HeidiRKinchen.