Civil Service Board affirms firing of ex-Denham Springs police chief Scott Jones; appeal in the works _lowres

Scott Jones; Steve Kistler

The Denham Springs Civil Service Board on Wednesday night dismissed cases against the city police chief and captain after attorneys accused the board of breaking the law during its investigation.

The board did not properly record testimony given by Chief Scott Jones and Capt. Steve Kistler during the investigation, a violation of state law, attorneys on both sides said after Wednesday’s hearing.

A fired city police officer who did not attend Wednesday’s meeting had accused Kistler and Jones of several misdeeds, including covering up drug use by the department’s then-head of the narcotics division.

Kistler had not completed his defense, and Jones had not begun to present his defense when questions of the recordings arose.

The tapes in question were either blank, jumbled or incomplete, board attorney Henry Olinde said. A segment of Louisiana statute known as the Police Officer’s Bill of Rights demands all law enforcement testimony be fully recorded and available to defendants during a civil service investigation.

“I can’t explain what happened here. It’s very upsetting to me because I was working (the tape recorder,)” said board secretary Charlie Simmons, who said she has held the position for more than 15 years.

Simmons, Olinde, and both officers’ attorneys said they reviewed the recordings in question. All were confident they had not been erased.

“I never covered up nothing, wouldn’t think of it,” Simmons said.

“There’s not evidence that there was any tampering with the tapes,” Olinde said.

Simmons wondered if the cassettes themselves malfunctioned, or if witnesses leaned too far away from the microphone to be recorded. However, there is also the possibility of human error.

The City Council meets in the same chambers and uses the same recording equipment as the Civil Service Board. Before Tuesday’s council meeting, city clerk Joan LeBlanc demonstrated to The Advocate that the microphone used by witnesses and the chamber’s tape recorder were functioning. After attorneys first questioned tapes used in the police investigation, LeBlanc said she reviewed some of her recordings of recent council meetings and found they were complete.

Still, after the cases were dismissed, the board moved to send a letter to Mayor Gerard Landry asking for an equipment upgrade and new hardware that is “not obsolete,” Olinde said.

Relieved, Kistler and Jones left the board’s chambers Wednesday night to hugs from family members, city officials and members of the police force.

“I feel great. ... It’s a huge weight off my shoulders,” Kistler said.

When asked if he would have liked the opportunity to present the rest of the case in his defense, the captain said he was happy the hearings were over.

Jones referred all questions to his attorney Scott Huffstetler, who said it had been “a very emotionally trying time for him and the department,” noting the recent death of a Denham Springs police officer in addition to the contentious hearing.

Follow Steve Hardy on Twitter, @SteveRHardy.