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The Louisiana State Police in Baton Rouge photographed Friday, March 31, 2017.

ADVOCATE STAFF PHOTO BY TRAVIS SPRADLING

Two high-ranking State Police troopers have been demoted for taking an unauthorized "side trip" last year to Las Vegas and the Grand Canyon while driving across the country to attend a law enforcement conference in California.

Col. Kevin Reeves, the State Police superintendent, permanently reduced the pay of the troopers, Derrell Williams and Rodney Hyatt, and sent them scathing disciplinary letters Monday in which he denounced their actions as "unacceptable."

Williams had been a major and head of the agency's Internal Affairs Division when he took the trip with three colleagues. He is now a lieutenant.  

"Your indifference to the common sense notion that it is improper to claim (pay for) time when you are sightseeing or when you are sleeping has cast an unwarranted cloud of questions over this department and that of each and every one of its employees," Reeves wrote in his letter to Hyatt. 

The discipline followed an internal investigation that determined the troopers improperly charged taxpayers for thousands of dollars in overtime they claimed while traveling to San Diego for the annual International Association of Chiefs of Police conference.

The other troopers on the trip, Thurman D. Miller and Alexandr Nezgodinsky, received a letter of reprimand and counseling, respectively.

The "side trip" included a circuitous route that took the troopers several hundred miles out of their way — a jaunt in which they stayed at a casino resort and also visited the Hoover Dam.

But Hyatt and Williams insisted their itineraries had been approved by Reeves' predecessor, Col. Mike Edmonson, the longtime superintendent who retired shortly after news of the side trip prompted a series of state inquiries into State Police travel. 

Edmonson "knew our whereabouts the entire trip," signed off on the expenses and even advised the troopers before leaving Baton Rouge "to take a northern route to see and visit the Grand Canyon, the Hoover Dam and Las Vegas," Hyatt wrote in a letter to State Police brass obtained by The Advocate.

Edmonson has insisted he did not sign off on the side trip. 

"At no time did (Edmonson) say we should not have stayed, visited or claimed time for going to any of the locations that were discussed," Hyatt wrote. "We never concealed anything concerning our travel."

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Williams, in his response, said he had no doubt that Edmonson "knew exactly where we were going and what we were doing and that we had his permission."

The internal investigation found that Hyatt violated State Police policy in part by claiming to have worked 88 straight hours during the trip, including 56 hours of overtime. "These hours included time that you slept, went sightseeing and even saw a show in Las Vegas," Reeves wrote.

He added that Hyatt had abused the department's trust "by claiming time for periods when you were not working and were not actually traveling."

Hyatt had been a lieutenant at the time of the trip but has been demoted to a sergeant. 

The questionable expenses came on top of tens of thousands of dollars the State Police spent to send at least 15 people to the IACP conference, a four-day event that attracts a who's who of law enforcement leaders.

Edmonson had four troopers drive rather than fly to the conference "because there were some off-site things that we needed (a vehicle) to go to," he said in an interview earlier this year. 

But the internal investigation made clear that troopers treated the trip like a vacation, and it also unearthed some embarrassing instances of Williams using his business cellphone for personal communications.   

Investigators found that, after checking into a Las Vegas hotel, Williams took a photograph of a bed and sent it to a friend. "Has your name all over it," he wrote. "Look at the bar at the top of the headboard. What do you think that is for?"

Williams told State Police brass that he didn't think the message was "sexual or inappropriate," and that the investigators' "perception of my comments was way off base." 

The same friend sent Williams a photograph of her genitalia a couple of days later in an email with the subject "No panties Sunday."

Two days after that exchange, Williams sent the woman an image of himself "seated in the desert with a cactus protruding between (his) legs," according to State Police records. 

Follow Jim Mustian on Twitter, @JimMustian.