The Municipal Fire and Police Civil Service Board voted unanimously Thursday to reject a request that it investigate Cpl. Chris Stewart, president of the Baton Rouge police union, saying a former officer’s complaint about Stewart’s actions during the recent mayoral election had no merit.
Board President Bryan Taylor said he believed that former Baton Rouge Police Lt. Richard K. Sobers asked for the investigation because his feelings were hurt and that by accusing Stewart of violating civil service rules, Sobers was accusing the more than 650 members of the police union.
Sobers had asked the board to investigate Stewart for violating civil service rules prohibiting participation in political campaigns after Stewart posted a message on Sobers’ Facebook wall about Mayor-President Kip Holden winning re-election over former Metro-Councilman Mike Walker on Nov. 7.
Sobers said he had openly supported Walker.
Stewart also posted a picture of himself with Holden at the mayor-president’s victory party, which Sobers said was a violation of civil service rules.
Board member Fran Bussie said she did not consider the party a “political function,” only a victory party.
“I am basically kind of shocked to tell you the truth,” Sobers said of the civil service board’s decision. “I cited everything I could find and I looked pretty hard at trying to find something that allowed our union to be exempt” from the civil service rules.
Sobers told the board that during his time in the union, he could not recall the union backing a political candidate.
However, Baton Rouge Police Chief Dewayne White testified that he was in the union around the same time as Sobers in the 1980s and said he recalled the union backing several candidates, including mayoral candidates.
In a letter Sobers sent to the board on Nov. 8, he said that Facebook posts by other people put Stewart at Holden’s party long before the election results were known.
In the letter, Sobers also cited a ruling from the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans that upheld a decision to terminate five Kenner police officers who supported political candidates.
Sobers said he was unsure if he would pursue the issue any further.
Stewart, who was not called to testify, said he was relieved the matter was over and was pleased with the ruling.
“I think it was a little trivial,” Stewart said of the complaint filed against him.