DENHAM SPRINGS — By the time the last legal bill is paid, Denham Springs will have spent somewhere between $20,000 and $25,000 on an investigation of the city police chief and captain, Mayor Gerard Landry said Monday evening.
The city’s civil service board investigation ended abruptly and without resolution earlier this month after lawyers revealed the officers’ testimonies were not properly recorded, in violation of state law.
Monday evening, the Denham Springs City Council called civil service board chairman Sgt. Clay Gillespie to explain why the tapes were blank or garbled.
“We don’t know why that happened,” Gillespie said.
He listed three possibilities, all technical issues. Perhaps the microphones weren’t able to pick up the witness’s testimony. Maybe the recording system malfunctioned. Possibly the board received a bad batch of tapes.
“We believe it was definitely a technical error,” he said.
Under questioning from councilmen, Gillespie revealed that three tapes were blank or jumbled. They had been recorded on two separate machines by two different people in two different rooms on at least two different days. The tapes were stored in a city vault and showed no sign of tampering.
One machine in question is used by the city council. Upon request by The Advocate, city clerk Joan LeBlanc has demonstrated since the hearings in question that the recorder and microphone in council chambers are functioning. She has reviewed her own tapes of recent meetings and found they are complete.
When asked after the meeting if the board had examined other possibilities for the faulty recordings, Gillespie said “all indications” suggest they were the result of a technical error.
Board secretary Charlie Simmons operates the tape recorder during public hearings in the council chambers. Board attorney Henry Olinde was in charge of using a portable machine when the council interviewed a witness in executive session in another room in city hall. Gillespie said the board has not discussed making a change at either position.
He told the city council that the civil service board is in the process of writing a formal request that the city upgrade its recording equipment.
Landry said the city will look into the possibility of purchasing a new system.
“Unfortunately, it still comes down to human beings pushing a button,” the mayor said.
Gillespie was called to give the council a report by request of councilman and former police chief Jeff Wesley.
“I think it’s important that we know what went wrong so it doesn’t happen again,” Wesley said before the meeting.
“This is not a question that needs to occur behind closed doors. … There was a breakdown in this process.”
After listening to Gillespie, the former chief still couldn’t pin down exactly why the tapes were incomplete. The city should remove the possibility of technical problems, he said, but human error will still remain.
“I don’t know what happened in here,” Wesley said. “I think that we will never know.”
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