HAMMOND — The Hammond Police and Fire Civil Service Board on Monday found there is enough evidence for the city to proceed with a disciplinary hearing against Police Chief Roddy Devall and Public Information Officer Vince Giannobile for violating the rights of a police officer by issuing personal information about her in a news release following her arrest on drug charges.
But the Civil Service Board itself came under fire from Devall’s attorney, Jill Craft, who said she is prepared to quickly file a brief in federal court in New Orleans asking that the board be held in contempt for violating a temporary restraining order.
U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier had previously ruled that the board violated Devall’s rights when it placed him on paid administrative leave in the matter.
Devall, who was not present at Monday’s daylong hearing, regained his position after two months when Barbier ordered his reinstatement following a suit Craft filed on the police chief’s behalf.
Despite that ruling, Craft said, the board proceeded with the hearing Monday.
“My client should have been given the right to be heard. His name is not even on the agenda this board followed today, and yet they reached their conclusions without his even being listed as part of this hearing,” Craft, of Baton Rouge, said after the hearing Monday. “This entire case is ludicrous and it’s unfortunate that Chief Duvall, who has served this city for more than 30 years, now finds himself the target of a witch hunt.”
The five-member Civil Service Board voted unanimously to set a disciplinary hearing for 9 a.m. July 14 in the City Council Chambers. At that time, Devall and Giannobile will have the opportunity to present their cases before city administrators. Board attorney Henry C. H. Olinde Jr., of Baton Rouge, said Mayor Mayson Foster can be part of the hearing board or he can name city administrators such as the personnel director or city administrator to conduct the hearings.
At the outset of Monday’s Civil Service Board hearing, Craft asked the board to recuse itself from the case and to end the proceedings before they were even underway. Craft contended the board had no right to proceed because the agenda was “devoid of Devall’s name” and the board was operating under the temporary restraining order.
Craft also said Devall could not be found guilty of violating police Officer Jennifer Payne’s rights because police arrest reports are a matter of public record and, therefore, Devall had the right to release them.
Nevertheless, the Civil Service Board found that Giannobile, with Devall’s knowledge, released on April 28 an account of the arrest of Payne, who was accused of allegedly “doctor shopping” to obtain prescription drugs. The release included Payne’s address and her photograph. Payne subsequently lodged a complaint with the Civil Service Board contending her rights under the state’s “police bill of rights” had been violated.
The Civil Service Board on Monday found that Giannobile, who has served as the Police Department’s spokesman for seven years, had never been properly trained for his duties.
The board also found that the release of Payne’s picture to the news media was a violation of state statutes that give police special protection if they are arrested.
Mark A. Waniewski, chief executive officer of PMI Resource, a Shreveport firm specializing in civil service law, said police officers, much like juvenile offenders, are given special privacy treatment under state laws. Waniewski was retained by the city of Hammond to assist the Civil Service Board in the Payne proceedings and in other matters handled by the board.
The board also found evidence that Devall gave Giannobile instructions to release information about Payne following her arrest and that had Giannobile not complied, he could have faced disciplinary action from the police chief.
Finally, the board, on a 3-2 vote, found that the administration had at least some role in the matter because of a lack of communication between city administrators and the Police Department about rules and regulations.
“The problem is the chief of police doesn’t respect the authority of the administration,” said John Pearson, one of the two board members voting no on that finding.
“We heard the evidence in the case and we have made our recommendations,” board Chairman David Danel said. “We are not here today to discipline anybody, just to tell the administration what we found from our investigation. And I think that we did a thorough job.”