Hammond’s longtime police chief was fired Monday morning after an 18-month investigation into the department’s handling of an officer’s arrest last year.
Roddy Devall, who had served as Hammond’s police chief for 34 years, was terminated effective immediately for alleged violations of state law and department policy, according to a letter from Mayor Pete Panepinto delivered to the chief Monday morning.
Devall immediately appealed the decision to the Hammond Municipal Fire and Police Civil Service Board, though an administrative law judge will have to be appointed to conduct the hearing.
“This disciplinary action has no basis in either fact or law, so we’re going to pursue this as long as we can for the purpose of getting it reversed,” attorney Ron Macaluso said.
Assistant Chief Tommy Corkern will lead the department in the meantime and report to the city’s director of administration, Panepinto said in a news release Monday afternoon.
“The position of chief of police remains vacant at this time,” Panepinto said in the release.
City spokeswoman Lisa Lambert said the administration had no further comment on the matter.
Devall’s removal comes in response to allegations that he ordered the release of Officer Jennifer Payne’s home address and photograph to news media after she was arrested in April 2014 on allegations of doctor shopping and prescription drug fraud.
Although jail booking information is public record under state law, the Louisiana Police Officers’ Bill of Rights prohibits any person from “releas(ing) to the news media ... a law enforcement officer’s home address, photograph, or any other information that may be deemed otherwise confidential, without the express written consent of the law enforcement officer.”
According to Panepinto’s letter firing Devall, he claims the chief violated state civil service laws by requiring department spokesman, Lt. Vince Giannobile, to perform an act that subjected him to disciplinary action.
Panepinto described Devall’s violation as “willful” and “without regard” to general orders or consequences.
“Not only does this rise to the level of Conduct Unbecoming an Officer, but threatens the integrity of the department,” Panepinto wrote. “As the Chief of Police, it was your duty and responsibility to uphold and maintain the integrity of the Hammond Police Department and be aware of and act consistently with all General Orders and laws applicable to the Department.”
The disciplinary action follows a complaint Payne filed with the city’s civil service board, claiming that the department’s news release regarding her arrest broke the law and put her family at risk.
The board hired a private firm to investigate the complaint, then turned over its findings to city administration for a pre-disciplinary hearing and recommendation.
Director of Administration Lacy Landrum recommended Devall be suspended, according to Macaluso.
“It then went to the mayor, who obviously decided that wasn’t enough and terminated the chief,” Macaluso said.
Because of the civil service board’s involvement in the investigation, the board likely will recuse itself from hearing Devall’s appeal.
By law, if the recusal of one or more board members results in the board’s inability to reach a decision, “the board shall be considered to have affirmed the action of the appointing authority” — in this case, the mayor.
In anticipation of that outcome, the board amended its rules in March to state that when the entire board recuses itself, an administrative law judge would be appointed to hear the appeal.
The administrative law judge will not determine whether the mayor’s decision was made in good faith and for good cause, as the civil service board would if it were hearing the appeal, said Henry Olinde, the board’s attorney.
Instead, the judge will preside over the appeal hearing, decide what evidence can be admitted and allow Devall’s attorney to cross-examine witnesses. A state court district judge will make the final determination based on the record from that hearing.
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