The New Orleans Police Department recently fired an officer accused of chasing a car without permission and then speeding away when that vehicle got into a traffic accident.
The officer, Aristotle Stephens, denied engaging in the pursuit or even seeing the crash when questioned by internal investigators, but a camera in his patrol car captured him looking toward the wreck and muttering, “Son of a bitch,” according to documents obtained this week by The Advocate.
Police Superintendent Michael Harrison dismissed Stephens on May 17.
Attorney Donovan Livaccari of the Fraternal Order of Police said Stephens intends to ask the city's Civil Service Commission to overturn his firing but declined to comment beyond that.
Documents say the traffic wreck happened on Feb. 4, 2017, when a white Buick collided with a red Kia at the Downman Road entrance ramp to Interstate 10 in New Orleans East.
Three witnesses at the scene told investigators that an officer in a patrol car with flashing overhead lights was chasing the Buick when the collision occurred. The officer glanced at the wreck, flipped his patrol car’s lights off and “sped off” on the interstate, the witnesses said.
One of the witnesses followed the patrol car and wrote down its unit number. It corresponded with the vehicle that had been assigned to Stephens that day, investigators said.
During an ensuing administrative investigation, Stephens said he was briefly following a Buick that he had tried to stop because it may have been involved in a hit-and-run accident and he wanted to “keep an eye on it.” He also said he was cut off by the Buick and became boxed in by other vehicles.
Stephens did acknowledge that an officer was chasing the Buick at one point, records said. Yet he claimed it was another officer, and that he never even saw the vehicles' crash.
Footage from his body-worn camera as well as a camera in his car contradicted his account. It showed him chasing the Buick, which he was not authorized to do, investigators said.
The footage from the car's dash camera also showed him glancing in the direction of the Buick’s collision, cursing in alarm and “fleeing the scene,” documents said.
Following a series of administrative hearings, Harrison determined that Stephens should be fired for breaking internal regulations requiring moral conduct and honesty from officers. He also violated the rules governing car chases as well as the guidelines requiring officers to properly respond to traffic accidents, Harrison said in a letter issued to Stephens.
Policies that the NOPD adopted a few years ago as part of a federally mandated reform agreement prohibit officers from engaging in vehicle chases of people suspected of nonviolent crimes.
Previously, Stephens earned recognition for his work on various occasions during a nearly 11-year career at the NOPD.
He was among several officers commended after they tracked down a group of men linked to the November 2015 shooting at Bunny Friend Park that left 17 people wounded.
A little less than a year before the incident that resulted in his firing, Stephens had been recognized as officer of the month in the 3rd District, which covers areas such as Gentilly and Lakeview.