Two Covington Police Department officers have been suspended for violating policies related to a special fund the department maintains for paying confidential informants, Chief Tim Lentz said Monday.
They are the second and third officers Lentz has suspended since taking office last fall.
Lt. Stephen Culotta and Officer Bart Ownby were suspended for 28 and 14 days, respectively, for violating policies related to the fund.
Ownby is set to begin his suspension Wednesday, Lentz said. The date for Culotta’s suspension has not been determined because he has been on leave.
Lentz conducted a surprise audit of the confidential informants fund in April, turning up records showing the two officers in question received checks totaling $18,500 from the fund in 2013. Culotta received three checks totaling $15,000, and Ownby got one for $3,500.
Lentz then asked the Mandeville Police Department to investigate the matter because the Covington department has no internal affairs division.
Officers are supposed to keep a close accounting of how money in the informants fund is spent, but Lentz said the two officers could not produce records detailing their expenses in a timely manner.
Though Mandeville detectives uncovered no criminal violations, Culotta and Ownby were found to have violated several policies related to filling out payment forms, filing reports and managing drug investigations, Lentz said.
The officers cooperated with the investigation and even admitted they hadn’t read the entire policy until after they were notified they were under investigation, Lentz said.
Their cooperation factored heavily into his decision to suspend them rather than mete out a more serious punishment, he said.
Culotta was just promoted to lieutenant last week — something Lentz said he had to do because of civil service rules about seniority.
Lentz said he believed the two men could be good officers “but they just never had proper leadership,” a veiled shot at former Chief Richard Palmisano, who was fired by Mayor Mike Cooper in 2013 after two officers were arrested for using excessive force on a suspect in custody.
The suspensions are the latest in what has been an eventful first year on the job for Lentz, who took office last October in the midst of a roiling controversy over the arrest of two referees by two Covington police officers during a high school football game.
One of those officers, Stephen Short, was suspended and later retired when he was put under investigation again. The second, former interim Chief Jack West, retired rather than face disciplinary action.
Culotta and Ownby join Short as the three officers Lentz has suspended. West was one of three others who have resigned rather than face disciplinary action.
Follow Faimon A. Roberts III on Twitter, @faimon.