DENHAM SPRINGS — After listening to nearly an hour of testimony about the character and integrity of Denham Springs Police Chief Paul “Scott” Jones, the City Council voted Thursday to fire him, effective immediately.
Mayor Gerard Landry had placed Jones and police Capt. Steve Kistler on paid leave beginning Feb. 17, pending an investigation into the department’s handling of a domestic violence call involving a city councilman.
Thursday’s firing came during a special meeting packed with about 100 people, many of them friends, family and colleagues of the chief speaking in favor of keeping him. A former Denham Springs police officer was the only person who spoke against the chief.
The council vote was 4-1. Councilman Chris Davis, the lone no vote, said the decision was “politically motivated” and that the city “should be held liable” for Jones’ termination.
It was a 911 call made by Davis’ wife that led to the investigation. The couple had gotten into a heated argument Jan. 15, when Davis hit his wife with the door of his truck, injuring her head. Both Davises have since said it was an accident.
Denham Springs officers issued an arrest warrant for Davis after the altercation but did not execute it, District Attorney Scott Perrilloux has said. Instead, Davis was given a summons to appear in court.
The District Attorney’s Office later issued its own warrant for Davis’ arrest, and he surrendered in February.
Davis said Thursday that Jones did what police officers are supposed to do: “Take those accused and turn them over to the judicial system.”
But in recommending Jones’ immediate termination, Landry said the department handled Davis’ case differently than it had handled other recent domestic violence cases.
Landry said the investigating committee — Councilman and former Police Chief Jeff Wesley, Human Resources Director Gary Watson and City Attorney Stephanie Hulett — spent more than 200 hours interviewing more than 20 people and reading countless documents.
The mayor said he reviewed the committee’s work in depth and met with both officers to hear their side before calling Thursday’s special meeting.
Kistler, the police captain, said if there is blame to be had, it should fall on him.
“He did not coerce me, force me, suggest or in any other way try to convince me to do what I did,” Kistler said of Jones. “He gave me a task to complete, and I did it to the best of my ability.”
Wesley, who served as the city’s police chief between Jones’ 1989 termination on allegations he failed to adequately perform his duties and his reappointment in 2009, said he understands how mistakes could be made.
“I made many mistakes in my 19 years as police chief,” Wesley said. “But the problem I had, and the problem I have today, is that throughout the investigation, things continued to come up that I couldn’t defend.
“When you talk about prayer, I’ve probably worn out my knees on this one,” Wesley said to the numerous audience members who spoke ardently of Jones’ faith as a Christian and his integrity as an officer.
Many said they did not know the facts of the case, but they knew and believed in the man who stood accused.
Jones’ daughter, Brandi Monistere, said her father showed no favoritism in the handling of his daughters’ traffic tickets. “Dad said, ‘Suck it up,’ ” she said.
She pleaded with the council to return her father to the job and community he loves.
Denham Springs attorney Mike Betts said if the council truly questioned whether Jones is the kind of man they wanted for a chief, then Betts questioned whether he would want those council members handling the city’s business.
“I mean, Scott Jones is a man, he puts somebody in the back of the car to lock them up, and he’s witnessing to them on the way to jail,” Betts said, eliciting a round of “amen” from the audience.
Former officer Jared Kraemer said the issue is not one of character but of ability to lead the department.
“As a former police officer, I believe the image of Scott Jones is detrimental to these men in uniform, those out doing the work and handling the calls,” Kraemer said.
Kraemer urged the council, “Let’s not attack the man; let’s attack a problem, and fix that problem, regardless of who the man is.”
Councilman Robert Poole, who spoke of his own faith and quoted Scripture during his comments, said he was uncomfortable finding himself at odds on the issue with many in the evangelical community.
Poole said the details of the case would come out in time, but the council was bound by the “body of evidence and procedure we’re expected to follow.”
“I don’t want you to think there’s any preconceived notion,” Poole said, drawing laughter and ire from many in attendance.
Jones, who attended the meeting, did not speak and declined to answer reporters’ questions as to whether he’ll appeal to the city’s civil service board or file suit.
Several Jones supporters said city officials had clearly made up their minds from the beginning about getting rid of the police chief — a sentiment backed by Davis, who described the outcome as political.
Davis contrasted Jones’ termination with the city’s handling of a recent case in which the Police Department booked a man with numerous DWI arrests and convictions on first-offense DWI. The man, Jeffrey L. Blough, bailed out of jail and got into a second DWI-related crash the same night, severely injuring two teenagers.
“In that case, nothing happened to them, where people were hurt,” Davis said of the police officers. “And in the case where no one was hurt, you have two officers who are having their lives ruined.”
Follow Heidi R. Kinchen on Twitter, @HeidiRKinchen, and call her at (225) 336-6981.