The humiliation wasn’t intentional, the police officers said.
In recent interviews with Internal Affairs investigators, three Baton Rouge police officers said they did not mean to insult Stephanie Hayden Ford, the “Sons of Guns” reality TV star, when they participated in a Spanish Town Mardi Gras Parade float decorated with images of her and her father, Will Hayden.
Ford, who appeared on “Dr. Phil” in September and said her father sexually molested her when she was 12 years old, criticized the police officers in February after she learned about her depiction on the float. Ford said the officers should never have mocked a sexual abuse victim.
And on Friday, not long after Ford learned two of the police officers weren’t disciplined and the third was issued a letter of reprimand, she expressed disappointment.
“We are saddened by the findings and the conclusion of the BRPD’s internal investigation of this year’s Mardi Gras float incident,” Ford said through a spokesman. “The mere fact that a sexual assault victim could be lampooned on a float that is paraded through a city is bad enough, but to have it done by members of law enforcement is morally reprehensible.”
Ford described the punishment dished out to one of the three, the letter, as “an insult to anyone who has ever been a victim.”
The Police Department on Friday declined to make the officers — Sgt. Donald Young, Sgt. J. Byron Fontenot and Sgt. Douglas Atkins — available for interviews.
Young, the owner of the float, was issued the letter of reprimand in early May. Neither Fontenot, a passenger on the float, nor Atkins, who pulled the float in a pickup, were disciplined as a result of the internal investigation.
The float, “Krewe of Sleaziana,” featured an altered image of Ford’s face on a poster. Below the image, text read, “A face only a daddy could love” and “Red Jack It Firearms.”
Red Jacket Firearms was the name of Will Hayden’s Baton Rouge custom gun shop. The “Sons of Guns” program followed Hayden, his daughter and others involved with the shop for several seasons. But the show was canceled after Hayden was arrested in August on accusations of raping a preteen girl. He has since been charged with raping different girls in East Baton Rouge and Livingston parishes as recently as weeks before his arrest and as long ago as 1991.
Hayden also faces a sex crimes charge in Livingston accusing him of attacking Ford, who says her father kissed and fondled her in one incident. In the Baton Rouge case, the Sheriff’s Office handled the investigation, not the BRPD.
In interviews with internal investigators, the police officers said Hayden — whose mugshot appeared on the side of the float — was the intended target of the ridicule. All the officers were off duty during the parade.
Young said he took responsibility for the incident because he owned the float. He told investigators he would have removed photos of Ford if he had looked at the float before the parade began.
“He realized it was an error in judgment,” the report says, “and regrets the issues that this has caused.”
Young also said he did not receive any complaints about the float before, during or after the parade until about a week later, when Ford saw pictures of the float posted on Facebook and released a statement expressing her concerns.
“I can promise you that in the future, nothing will go on that float without me seeing it and giving it the OK,” Young told investigators. “I think we’ve all learned a lesson to watch what we put out there.”
Young, a former sex crimes detective, works in the department’s Internal Affairs division.
Fontenot, a passenger on the float, was the officer who posted pictures of himself on Facebook from his time at the parade. He also was identified in pictures posted by other people.
Between the two sets of photos, he appeared in some images with pictures of Hayden and Ford in the background.
Fontenot said he deactivated his Facebook profile, meaning no one could view it, following the float incident.
All three officers — Young, Fontenot and Atkins — expressed some form of regret to internal affairs investigators regarding their involvement in the incident. Young and Fontenot also said they were unaware Ford was the victim of an alleged sex crime.
A summary of Atkins’ interview with investigators does not indicate whether he knew about Ford saying she was sexually abused.
Atkins, in his interview with internal investigators, said in hindsight, “he certainly wouldn’t put those pictures on the float.”
Atkins also said he would not participate “in anything like that anymore.”
In a prepared statement, Police Chief Carl Dabadie Jr. said Friday he felt the discipline for Young was appropriate even though the officers weren’t representing the department during the parade.
“I sincerely apologize to Mrs. Ford for the actions of my officers and have since taken steps to insure this does not happen in the future,” Dabadie said in the statement.
Dabadie also said investigators made several unsuccessful attempts to schedule an interview with Ford, asking her to make a statement to police regarding the float incident.
According to the internal affairs report, an investigator first reached out to Ford on Feb. 24, the same day her publicist issued a statement about Ford’s feelings about the Spanish Town float. The investigator tried twice more to contact Ford but never heard back from her, the report says.
Follow Ben Wallace on Twitter, @_BenWallace.