It’s been almost three months since Butch Browning resumed his position as state fire marshal after retiring amid allegations he misused his authority. Investigations into those allegations, however, have yet to be concluded.
State Inspector General Stephen Street said Monday his office is “near the end of the (investigatory) process” and will release a “detailed report” when that process is complete. Street declined to provide an exact timeline.
State Police Col. Michael Edmonson said his agency’s investigation is complete but will not be closed until it’s gone through the proper approval process and the inspector general’s investigation is finished.
“We are working with the inspector general to help him finish his report,” Edmonson said. “Out of respect for his office, we will let him finish his report before releasing ours.”
As for his agency’s initial findings, Edmonson said investigators determined Browning neither broke the law nor attempted to defraud the State Fire Marshal’s Office or the public. Edmonson released such findings on May 4, the day Browning accepted the colonel’s offer to resume his governor-appointed position as state fire marshal.
Edmonson said he didn’t want to delay the job offer because he wanted to treat Browning “the way I would want to be treated.”
“If an allegation was made against me that I know not to be true or not completely accurate, I would hope someone would take the time to look at it and do so quickly,” he said. “I saw how important it was to vet these (allegations) out, and if they aren’t accurate, to report that.”
The complaints against Browning allege the state fire marshal suppressed information about his office’s handling of an investigation of a carnival ride accident that injured two teens in Greensburg, allowed noncommissioned investigators to purchase their old service weapons, and wore military medals and ribbons without having served in the military.
State Police and the Office of the Inspector General also are investigating a letter Browning allegedly wrote and sent to the governor admitting he mismanaged public funds for personal gain. State Police deemed the letter a fraud and found no evidence to support the complaints. The inspector general is still looking into the matter.
Meanwhile, the mother of the two teens injured last year on the Greensburg carnival ride filed suit against the state Fire Marshal’s Office, alleging the agency failed to properly inspect the ride prior to it being used at a carnival on the grounds of St. Helena Central High School. The mother filed the suit a day before Browning stepped back into his job as state fire marshal.
Browning has said he decided to accept Edmonson’s offer to return to the State Fire Marshal’s Office, instead of taking a job in the private sector, because “my passion is public service.” Browning also has said he welcomes any opportunity to make positive changes and appreciates any input he receives from State Police or the inspector general.
How much longer will Browning and the public have to wait for such input and what will happen to Browning if the inspector general’s investigation doesn’t exonerate him? Until these questions are answered, the reputation of Browning and his office will remain on the line.
Kimberly Vetter covers crime in East Baton Rouge Parish. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.