Richard Reed, the brother of St. Tammany Parish District Attorney Walter Reed, flashed an honorary badge issued by the DA’s Office at a Covington police officer who pulled him over as Reed tried to drive an inebriated woman away from a Covington restaurant on Sunday night, police confirmed.
Despite Richard Reed’s claim that he had the situation under control, the officer insisted on speaking to the woman, who was slumped over in Reed’s back seat, according to Covington Police Chief Tim Lentz.
Police were seeking the woman because managers of The Chimes Restaurant said she had become belligerent while at the bar.
When an officer arrived at The Chimes, he was informed that the woman had left in Richard Reed’s car, which the officer spotted at a nearby red light. The officer pulled Reed over in a shopping center parking lot, Lentz said. Reed “exited the vehicle and handed the officer a wallet badge from the District Attorney’s Office,” Lentz said.
Reed said he was taking the woman home, Lentz said.
“My understanding is that he flashed the badge in order to assure the officers that he didn’t need any assistance,” Lentz said.
Richard Reed has no connection to law enforcement other than through his brother. He recently resigned from a post as a clerk at St. Tammany Parish Hospital — for which Walter Reed until recently did legal work — after the arrangement aroused controversy, including questions about Richard Reed’s rate of pay and his job responsibilities.
After Reed flashed his badge, the officer decided to take the woman in his car to the Covington police station so she could be checked out by EMS personnel for possible alcohol poisoning. Police issued her a summons for public intoxication and released her into the custody of friends, Lentz said.
Richard Reed came to the police station and offered to take her home, but she declined the offer, Lentz said.
Richard Reed was not ticketed or charged, and he is not under investigation for his role in the incident, Lentz said.
Reached by phone Monday, the woman said she didn’t know Richard Reed and that she had no idea how she ended up in his car. She vaguely remembered him saying he was connected to the district attorney, she said.
Morgan Stewart, a spokesman for Walter Reed, acknowledged that the DA gave his brother an honorary commission some “30 years ago, as a keepsake” after Walter Reed’s first election in 1984. Reed gave other badges to a “few family and friends,” Stewart said, adding that the badge confers “absolutely no authority whatsoever.”
Richard Reed returned the badge to the office after the Sunday incident, Stewart said.
He said he believes Walter Reed is trying to recall other honorary badges.
The district attorney has steadfastly refused to answer questions posed by The New Orleans Advocate in recent weeks about the office’s issuance of honorary badges, who received them and why.
In an official response to a public-records request, Reed’s administrative assistant, Gerald Reed, said the office did not have a list of people who received badges between January 2009 and June 16, 2014. A follow-up request for more information was ignored by the office.
While Stewart said he knew of only a few badges Walter Reed gave out shortly after his election in 1984, Claire Bradley, a former girlfriend of Walter Reed’s, said Reed gave her late father, James Bradley, an honorary “special investigator” badge in 2003. She provided a photograph of the badge to The New Orleans Advocate.
It shows a gold shield with the state seal and the words “Investigator, District Attorney, 22nd JDC” embossed upon it, referring to the 22nd Judicial District, which encompasses St. Tammany and Washington parishes. The accompanying certificate identifies Bradley as a “special investigator” and includes his picture, weight, eye color, hair color and Social Security number.
Nothing on the badge indicates that it is honorary or ceremonial.
The practice of handing out honorary badges or commissions to friends and supporters has a long history in the New Orleans area, although it has long been deplored by good-government groups, and the practice seems to have fallen into increasing disfavor in recent years.
While the badges technically don’t confer any power, they are sometimes flashed by their holders in an effort to get out of traffic stops or other scrapes. In 2009, for instance, Algiers Assessor Tom Arnold caused a controversy when he used emergency blue lights on the Causeway and then flashed an honorary badge after he was pulled over. New Orleans City Councilwoman Cynthia Hedge-Morrell did the same thing a couple of years earlier.
In 2003, scandal erupted when it emerged that Abita Springs Police Chief James Lala had been selling honorary badges. Reed’s office prosecuted him and several other officers, and Reed declared that the Abita Police Department was “rotten to the core and had become a front for criminal enterprise,” according to The Times-Picayune. Lala was sentenced to two years in prison.
Rafael Goyeneche, president of the Metropolitan Crime Commission, said honorary badges can have a legitimate purpose in limited circumstances, but there doesn’t appear to be any justification for Reed handing them out.
“I call them get-out-of-jail-free badges,” he said. “I was a former prosecutor, and I can’t think of a valid reason for having an honorary district attorney investigator.”
Some law enforcement agencies with citizen reserve units use similar programs, but some training or service hours often are required, Goyeneche said.
“Everything we have previously seen indicates dysfunctional leadership and poor management” in the District Attorney’s Office, he added.
Reed is the subject of a federal grand jury probe that appears to be examining questionable spending by his campaign and his $30,000-a-year contract with St. Tammany Parish Hospital, which he ended earlier this year. Reed has announced he will not run for a sixth term in the fall, but in a series of defiant statements, he has blamed the media for the bad publicity swirling around his tenure as district attorney.
He also has complained bitterly about reporting on members of his family, including his brother, who was the subject of several media reports concerning his employment at the hospital. Richard Reed, who began working at the hospital in 2002, took over the post of a part-time mailroom clerk last year, but his hourly pay was nearly 50 percent higher than hers and he was paid as a full-time instead of half-time employee, according to the former clerk, Fayette Dennis.
Editor’s note: This story was changed on Aug. 19 to remove the name of the inebriated woman. Covington police on Aug. 18 booked Richard Reed with sexual battery, saying video footage shows he groped the woman’s breasts and genitalia. Police also dropped charges against the woman. The New Orleans Advocate does not print the names of alleged victims of sex crimes.