Judge says board investigation of Hammond police chief is proper _lowres

Roddy Devall

A U.S. district judge found that the Hammond civil service board is not in contempt of court in the way it has conducted its investigation of Hammond Police Chief Roddy Devall.

Devall’s attorney Jill Craft had filed a motion in July saying the board was investigating Devall without giving him an opportunity to participate. The motion was filed as part of a suit against the Hammond Municipal Fire and Police Civil Service Board and its chairman, David Danel.

U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier has previously ruled that the board violated Devall’s rights when it placed him on paid administrative leave while it investigated complaints concerning police officer Jennifer Payne, who was arrested in April on allegations of “doctor shopping” for prescription drugs. Her address and phone number were distributed to the media, which Payne complained violated her rights under the state’s “police bill of rights.”

On May 15, the civil service board discussed the case in a closed session, then placed Devall on leave for 30 days, ordering him to have no contact with city employees. Craft, on Devall’s behalf, filed a lawsuit June 12 challenging the board’s actions and successfully seeking his reinstatement.

Barbier ordered no further action be taken against Devall without a proper hearing.

The recent motion specifically references a June 30 board meeting about the chief’s performance.

“No notice to Devall was given as required by law and no notice was given to Devall regarding the Board conducting an ‘Executive Session’ to discuss his professional competence,” the document states.

It also said the meeting agenda did not identify Devall by name and said only that it was referencing a “May 2014 complaint.”

“We believed it to be inappropriate,” Craft said Tuesday.

Board attorney Henry Olinde Jr. said he informed Devall of the meeting through Craft by phone and mail.

“Devall was given more than adequate notice of this meeting and its subject matter through his counsel of record,” he wrote in his opposition to the motion.

Barbier sided with the civil service board and denied the motion on Friday. Devall “had an opportunity to be heard and tell his side of the story,” in a June 20 interview and the June 30 meeting, he wrote. Furthermore, investigating a claim does not violate the terms of an outstanding restraining order because it does not qualify as an “adverse employment action,” Barbier wrote. Adverse employment actions include discharges, demotions and refusals to hire.

The five-member civil service board has a legal duty to investigate complaints, Olinde said.

“My guys are just trying to do our job,” he said.

However, the decision to pursue disciplinary action is left to the mayor. On Tuesday, he said he was not aware of any such action taken against the chief.

Mayor Mayson Foster declined to comment on the case, saying he did not want to speak about a matter in litigation.

Foster, a co-defendant in the case, has filed a motion to dismiss the case, scheduled to be heard by Barbier Sept. 10.

The motion states the “claims are not ripe for judicial review.”

“There is no allegation that the Board has made any final determinations regarding either Plaintiff’s employment status or the discipline, if any, of Plaintiff arising from the investigation.”

Tuesday Olinde refused to discuss the motion to dismiss, while Craft said her office was preparing their opposition to the motion.