A former Covington police officer whose arrest was a key factor in the eventual firing of former Police Chief Richard Palmisano has sued the city, Palmisano and Mayor Mike Cooper in state court, alleging that they circumvented due process in his own dismissal.
Nicholas Harper, who was arrested last year and booked on counts of malfeasance in office and simple battery for his role in a November 2012 arrest, claims in the suit that the city violated his due-process rights in terminating him without a hearing and that Palmisano and two other officers used intimidation, coercion and negative media coverage to deprive Harper of his constitutional rights.
The suit was filed April 24 in 22nd Judicial District Court.
Harper’s firing stemmed from the Nov. 20, 2012, arrest of George Davis, who was accused of theft and battery on a local store owner, according to Harper’s suit. While in custody, Davis bit Covington police Officer Anthony Adams, drawing blood, the suit says.
Davis told Adams he was HIV-positive and that Adams would become infected. Harper came to Adams’ aid with “legal and reasonable actions taken in the line of duty under the circumstances,” the suit says.
Palmisano told nola.com last year that a stun gun was used, but he did not provide any other details.
Adams and Harper were not arrested until March 2013, after a Police Department internal investigation of the incident was completed.
Stephen Short, at the time the department’s internal affairs investigator, also is named in the suit as a defendant. Short has been the subject of controversy himself after he arrested two football officials at a game in Covington in October. He was suspended and demoted by new Chief Tim Lentz, a decision Short is appealing.
Adams was booked on a count of malfeasance but not indicted, according to the St. Tammany Parish clerk of court’s website.
Harper was indicted on two counts: simple battery, a misdemeanor, and malfeasance, a felony. A grand jury declined to indict him on the malfeasance charge; the simple battery charge is scheduled for trial in June.
Harper’s suit alleges that his termination bypassed protections offered to him under the state’s Police Officer’s Bill of Rights and civil service rules in that he never had proper notice or a hearing before he was terminated. He also claims that statements made by Cooper and Palmisano were defamatory and “tend to injure one’s personal or professional reputation.”
Harper’s attorney, Christine Voelkel, did not respond to phone or email messages seeking comment.
Cooper said he was aware of the suit but had not read it and therefore couldn’t comment.
The announcement of the arrests and allegations was the straw that broke the camel’s back for Palmisano, who already had a rocky relationship with Cooper.
Before taking office in 2011, Cooper asked Palmisano to resign, but Palmisano refused. Cooper later placed Palmisano on administrative leave after allegations of excessive force came to light.
After 11 weeks, Palmisano was reinstated, but when the investigations into Harper and Adams were revealed, he was again suspended and eventually fired.
Palmisano’s name most recently surfaced as a candidate for the vacant Southeastern Louisiana University police chief’s job.
Follow Faimon A. Roberts III on Twitter @faimon.