Three New Orleans cops fired after one struck a handcuffed drunk man; incident caught on video _lowres

Advocate staff photo by MATTHEW HINTON--New Orleans Police Department members line up newly acquired police vehicles for a press conference on the top of the NOPD parking garage in New Orleans, La. Monday, Oct. 12, 2015.

Three New Orleans Police Department officers were fired Wednesday because of the punching of a handcuffed suspect inside the French Quarter district station that was caught on camera.

Officer Alfred Moran, a four-year veteran assigned to the 8th District, is accused of striking an arrestee who had kicked at him late on the night of Sept. 30. But police said two other officers — Lewis Simmons and Christopher Jennings — saw the incident, failed to report it to their supervisors and then lied about it under questioning. They also were fired.

Attorneys for all three cops dispute the Police Department’s version of events and said they will appeal the terminations to the city’s Civil Service Commission.

According to police and the Orleans Parish District Attorney’s Office, none of the fired officers will face arrest or criminal charges.

Police said the man struck by Moran, identified in court records as 58-year-old Vincent Knapp, did not require hospitalization. The address listed for Knapp in arrest records is a Central Business District homeless shelter.

Video of the incident has not been released, but NOPD spokesman Tyler Gamble said the department expects to release it soon.

Knapp was handcuffed to a bench in the 8th District station on Royal Street as officers filled out paperwork for his arrest on a count of public intoxication when Moran neared him shortly before midnight, according to a department account.

“They were arguing. At some point, the subject tried to kick at the officer … so then the officer used force by punching him to the face,” Gamble said.

Although the incident took place in a busy police station — in a front room often visited by the public — none of the officers present reported it to their supervisors, according to the NOPD. It was only the next day, when a supervisor reviewed body-worn camera footage, that the incident was discovered and reported to the Public Integrity Bureau, which investigates allegations of police misconduct.

Moran was then placed on desk duty. But the incident was not publicly disclosed until Wednesday, when all three men were fired after disciplinary hearings.

Drawing on one officer’s body-camera video as well as internal station house surveillance video, Police Superintendent Michael Harrison said he determined that Moran, Simmons and Jennings had all lied about what happened.

A fourth officer in the room, 28-year veteran Jeffery Tyler, was suspended for five days without pay. Gamble said he was “truthful” in his Public Integrity Bureau statement.

While the three officers received the sternest administrative punishments possible, Gamble said no criminal charges are expected.

The Police Department said it consulted with the office of District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro, which also determined that the punching did not merit criminal charges.

“Based on a review of the video evidence, the District Attorney’s Office did not possess evidence that proved beyond a reasonable doubt that the officer’s conduct was criminal,” spokesman Christopher Bowman said. “The arrested subject was the aggressor in the confrontation.”

Bowman added that Knapp refused to cooperate with the investigation.

For the Police Department, the decision to fire the officers appears to have hinged on apparent contradictions between the men’s statements and what was captured on video. In a statement, Harrison touted the dismissals as an example of the department’s no-tolerance policy toward lying.

“I expect our officers to follow the law, to follow our policies and our training and to be honest. I am extremely disappointed that these officers did not perform to our standards,” Harrison said. “Today’s decision demonstrates that the NOPD is committed to ethical and constitutional policing and that we will not tolerate anything less.”

The Police Department also pointed to new rules for reporting the use of force that went into effect in December, shortly after the station house incident. Those rules appear to have dramatically increased the frequency with which officers’ use of force is reported.

But attorneys for the fired officers said their dismissals were an overreach.

“I am disappointed in the outcome of these disciplinary hearings, and I have already begun filing appeals,” said Donovan Livaccari, an attorney who also serves as a spokesman for the Fraternal Order of Police. “Moran’s actions were a reaction to the arrested subject committing a battery on him.”

Livaccari also represents Jennings, a seven-year veteran. Both Livaccari and Claude Schlesinger, an attorney who represents Simmons, who was hired in 2008, said police brass relied too heavily on what the video showed instead of their officers’ accounts.

“Video evidence has to be taken in the context of the other information that was available,” Livaccari said. “Today’s actions relied entirely on the video evidence, as if the video evidence told the entire story.”

Simmons, accused of observing the incident and not reporting it, was at most “tangentially involved,” Schlesinger said.

“I think the department’s response is not in proportion to the severity of the offense, even if the offense is proven to be true, which we dispute,” Schlesinger said. “It’s sad in a way. You have really good officers, the department needs officers like crazy, and instead of using this as a training issue, they’re dismissing officers.”

At least three of the officers disciplined Wednesday have been subject to allegations of misconduct before.

Taxi driver Hervey Farrell accused Moran of falsely arresting him in 2013 after a local lawyer accused Farrell of extorting her over the release of a video showing her lifting her skirt in his cab. Farrell said in a lawsuit that the lawyer was the aggressor in the incident but that Moran and a supervisor had him arrested on her word alone.

The woman was eventually convicted of criminal mischief in connection with the incident. The city gave Farrell $40,000 last year to settle his claims of false arrest and emotional distress.

The Police Department suspended Simmons for one day in 2015 for failing to activate his body-worn camera during a use-of-force incident the year before, a violation of regulations. Further details on that case were not immediately available.

Tyler was suspended for 10 days after police determined that he entered his estranged wife’s house early on the morning of Dec. 1, 2008. The startled woman ordered him out. The Civil Service Commission upheld his suspension, calling the incident “a criminal trespass which was an act of domestic violence” and “clearly unprofessional.”

Meanwhile, one unusual physical feature of the 8th District station, in which officers frequently pass close to suspects handcuffed to a bench, may be coming to an end soon.

Cmdr. Jeffrey Walls said at an unrelated briefing Wednesday that the department is a week away from finishing construction on a new holding cell for the station.

“The room is Pepto-Bismol pink,” Walls said. “It’s good for drunks, because psychologically, it actually calms drunks down.”

He added, “We’ll also have cameras in place.”