DENHAM SPRINGS — After nearly 20 hours of testimony spread over four nights and less than an hour of deliberation late Wednesday, the city’s Civil Service Board affirmed the firing of Scott Jones as police chief.
The board, voting 4-0 just before midnight with member Thomas Lay absent, agreed that Jones had failed to perform his duties satisfactorily, had deliberately omitted acts he was required to perform, had committed or omitted acts prejudicial to the department or public interest and had committed acts sufficient to show he was unfit for employment in the Civil Service.
The board did not rule on the city’s findings that Jones had been insubordinate or guilty of dishonest, disgraceful or immoral conduct.
Jones’ attorney, Benjamin Chapman, said they will appeal the decision to 21st Judicial District Court.
Jones and Capt. Steve Kistler were fired April 7 over the handling of a domestic violence case involving City Councilman Chris Davis, whose wife dialed 911 after an overnight altercation Jan. 14-15 led to her receiving a head injury. Both Davises have since said the injury was an accident.
Police issued Davis a summons, rather than arresting him, prompting Mayor Gerard Landry to initiate an investigation.
Jones told the board he believed his firing was political. He said Landry undermined him by having officers report directly to the mayor and often told the chief, “I’m for you, I’m for you, but I’ve had some councilmen come to me.”
Jones said Landry seemed more concerned about how to respond to the media about Davis’ eventual arrest than whether Davis’ wife was adequately protected. The former chief denied the allegations and said he wasn’t involved in the decision to issue Davis a summons, which he said was Kistler’s, based on instructions from Assistant District Attorney and City Prosecutor Blayne Honeycutt.
Honeycutt had testified Tuesday, however, that he did not tell anyone how to handle the case.
Davis had not asked for any favors, Jones testified, and the two are merely acquaintances — a point City Attorney Stephanie Hulett repeatedly attacked.
Responding to Hulett’s questioning, Jones acknowledged that Davis had dated Jones’ daughter; Jones’ brother and Davis’ mother dated; Jones and Davis had attended church together; Jones took Davis to his first Alcoholics Anonymous meeting and once convinced Davis to check himself into a hospital.
Jones said he had not helped his own brother escape a DWI charge and did no favors for Davis, either.
But a flurry of phone calls and text messages among Davis, Jones, Kistler and Honeycutt on Jan. 15 — discussing how Davis’ case would be handled, whether his wife would revise her statement and whether Davis needed to surrender for arrest — proved troubling for Jones’ defense.
At one point during Jones’ testimony, Hulett noticed he was reviewing a timeline of those calls, with explanations only for the calls between Davis and himself. The timeline was part of a four-page letter Jones’ lawyer had written.
Hulett wanted the letter admitted as evidence because the chief relied on it to testify. Chapman objected, saying it was subject to attorney-client privilege. Ultimately, the board allowed Hulett to question Jones about the timeline but didn’t add the letter to the hearing record.
Jones said he didn’t recall the mayor ordering him on Jan. 16 to ensure the law was followed in Davis’ case, prompting Hulett to ask how many of the numerous conversations that weekend he did remember.
Jones said he remembered most, but when Hulett asked him about half a dozen calls other than those to Davis, Jones replied each time that he couldn’t recall what they were about.
Jones did recall Landry saying that Davis had a history of mental health problems, but Jones said he didn’t inform Kistler of that because the mayor’s information wasn’t specific.
Board members expressed concern about the chief’s hands-off approach, peppering him with questions about his failure to pass along that information and his silence during a Jan. 28 meeting about the case with the mayor, Hulett and Kistler.
Jones said he had little to say because, “I didn’t do any of it, and I didn’t have anything to add.”
Chapman, Jones’ attorney, said Jones’ lack of involvement should have weighed in his favor, not against him.
Hulett said the facts and law supported the board’s decision.
“The chief is a good man, but he was put in a bad situation and made a bad decision,” she said.
Follow Heidi R. Kinchen on Twitter, @HeidiRKinchen, and call her at (225) 336-6981.