The Denham Springs police chief has been accused of “covering up” a sergeant’s drug abuse and lying to investigators, while the department’s second-in-command faces an allegation that he ordered — “in a threatening way” — officers under his command not to cooperate with the city’s Civil Service Board investigation.
Notices served to department brass this month have offered new details in the ongoing case in which the two are accused of “unwillingness or failure to perform the duties of (their) positions in a satisfactory manner,” offenses for which they can be fired.
Chief Scott Jones and Capt. Steve Kistler have been ordered to appear before the board in January for separate pre-disciplinary hearings. Each will have a chance to offer his side of the story before the board decides whether to recommend a punishment, which can range from a reprimand to dismissal. It will be up to Mayor-elect Gerard Landry to enact any punishment the board suggests.
The Civil Service Board began investigating Jones and Kistler in October, after fired police officer Jared Kreamer filed a litany of complaints against the two. Many revolved around their treatment of Russ Munsell, a former sergeant who resigned in November. In a written complaint and in testimony, Kreamer offered evidence that Munsell had been using drugs including Roxicodone while head of the department’s narcotics unit. Kreamer accused police leaders of improperly responding to reported drug use by one of their own.
Munsell went on leave for about one month in January 2012 to address his drug problem, Jones’s notice states. The chief told board members he did not know why the sergeant was taking time off, which board members believe was a lie.
“… You falsely testified you were not aware why Sgt. Russ Munsell went out on leave in January of 2012. You testified that you signed leave slips and did not know why Sgt. Munsell was taking leave. You also falsely testified that you were not in the ‘loop’ with respect to Sgt. Munsell’s drug related leave and related issues,” the notice states.
When he returned, Munsell was placed back into his old job where he had “regular contact with, and access to, drug dealers and drugs,” the document continues.
The sergeant was supposed to be drug tested when he came back to work, but he was not given a test for nearly two years. When Kistler did request a drug test in December 2013, Munsell was given a five-panel version, rather than the broader 10-panel test “which could have detected the drugs that Sgt. Munsell was reportedly abusing,” according to the notices.
The following month, the Livingston Parish Sheriff’s Office filed a complaint regarding Munsell’s drug use. An internal affairs investigation revealed “substantial evidence that Sgt. Munsell was engaged in illegal drug activity,” but no conclusion was ever written, and no action was taken against Munsell.
When the board began investigating Kreamer’s complaint, the chief and captain stood in the way, members wrote.
Jones did not comply with a subpoena requesting documents related to the case. He testified he did not remember receiving the subpoena.
Kistler refused to answer questions when he appeared before the Civil Service Board in November. He also ordered two officers not to testify.
“In direct defiance of the Board, you committed a disrespectful outburst before the CSB during the testimony of Officer James Foster … Your outburst included ordering your subordinate, Officer Foster, in a threatening way that he would be violating a direct order if he testified in accordance with law and as required by the subpoena that had been issued to him,” Kistler’s notice states.
Foster and Officer Keith Scoby, who the document says also had been ordered by Kistler not to testify, refused to answer questions from board members during the investigation.
“You participated in covering up Sgt. Munsell’s drug issues to the detriment of the police department, Sgt. Munsell’s career and person and the safety of the citizens of Denham Springs,” both notices state.
On Tuesday, Jones declined to comment on the case. Kistler did not return a call for comment. Munsell did not respond to a message left with a family member.
Kistler’s and Jones’s hearings will be Jan. 5 and Jan. 8, respectively. Both will be at 6 p.m. in the Denham Springs Municipal Building and will be open to the public.
Follow Steve Hardy on Twitter, @SteveRHardy.