A New Orleans police officer booked with domestic violence for the second time this year has pleaded not guilty to the latest counts against him.
Officer James Cunningham was arrested Monday morning and booked on counts of domestic abuse battery and false imprisonment. Police said he was involved in an altercation with his girlfriend about 5:30 a.m. in the 500 block of Patterson Drive in Algiers.
Cunningham, 34, pleaded not guilty in Municipal Court on Tuesday, and a judge set a $16,000 bail. The eight-year NOPD veteran also was placed under a stay-away order. He was placed on emergency suspension without pay.
Cunningham has been on administrative reassignment since January, when he was arrested for simple battery and home invasion in an incident involving the same woman at the same address.
In the most recent incident, the woman told police that she and Cunningham had gone out for dinner and drinks on Sunday evening. Sometime during the night, she said, Cunningham became “agitated” and she took a taxi to her residence to avoid a fight.
Cunningham then allegedly went to Patterson Drive and tried to start an argument with the victim in her bedroom, grabbing her and yelling.
As the woman tried to free herself from his grasp, she told Sgt. Robert Kirton of the NOPD’s Public Integrity Bureau, Cunningham began threatening and insulting her. She tried to call the police but Cunningham allegedly took the phone away. When Cunningham grabbed her and again blocked her exit, she said, she started punching him, finally breaking free and yelling for help.
Cunningham’s lawyer, however, said his client called 911 for help, and he questioned the Police Department’s decision to level such serious accusations against one of its own.
“The prosecution is an overreaction based largely in part to his employment,” defense attorney John Fuller said. “There is no question there may have been some type of disturbance, but it certainly didn’t rise to the level of something criminal.”
“There are no visible injuries, especially to her,” Fuller added.
But the woman told police that she feared Cunningham would seriously injure her.
“He’s threatening me and his body language and everything says that he is,” the woman said. “I thought that he was going to hit me.”
The girlfriend said that while Cunningham had appeared to be taking some positive steps, there had been two similar incidents in the preceding two months.