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Louisiana State Police Supt. Col Mike Edmonson details the actions of shooter Gavin Long, next to a map of the area surrounding the B-Quik convenience store during a press conference Monday, July 18, 2016 at the Governor's Office of Homeland Security & Emergency Preparedness, in the wake of the July 17 ambush shootings of area law enforcement officers.

Advocate staff photo by TRAVIS SPRADLING

Col. Mike Edmonson, the embattled State Police superintendent, announced his retirement from the agency on Wednesday, stepping down amid a series of investigations into questionable overtime charges and out-of-state travel involving high-ranking troopers.

After a series of private meetings with Gov. John Bel Edwards — and seeking counsel from family and friends in recent days — Edmonson, 58, delivered a letter to the governor stating his intention to step down March 24. 

The announcement marked a stunning about-face for the state's longest-serving State Police head, who resisted outside calls for his resignation and, as recently as last week, said he had no intention of turning in his badge after nine years at the helm. While Edmonson said the governor did not ask him to step down, it became increasingly clear to the superintendent that he had become an untenable distraction. 

"I'm leaving with a clear conscience, an open heart and a clear mind," Edmonson said in an interview. "This is the right thing to do for my family, this organization and for Mike Edmonson."

The governor, in a prepared statement, said both he and Edmonson believed the retirement "is the best approach for the department." He called Edmonson a "steady hand and a strong leader" and said the superintendent had "provided leadership and support when we've needed it most."

Edwards is expected to name an interim replacement while a permanent superintendent is sought. 

[Click here to read Edmonson's statement explaining why he's retiring.]

Edmonson, who was named superintendent by Gov. Bobby Jindal in 2008 and remained on the job after Edwards' election in 2015, leaves office amid a growing controversy over thousands of dollars in overtime that troopers charged to state taxpayers last year during a road trip that included overnight stops in Las Vegas and the Grand Canyon.

Four troopers, including the then-head of the agency's Internal Affairs unit, billed pricey hotel rooms to state credits and detoured hundreds of miles as they drove to a law enforcement conference in San Diego in a state SUV issued to Edmonson's chief of staff. Edmonson has maintained he did not approve the overtime, and he launched an internal inquiry that is expected to determine whether the troopers committed payroll fraud or violated State Policy policy.

But the trip, which surfaced as state lawmakers were seeking to plug a more than $300 million budget gap, generated public outrage and at least two other state investigations into State Police travel, including an extensive audit ordered by Edwards. As recently as Monday, a state lawmaker requested that the legislative auditor examine nine years' worth of records -- a period that coincides with Edmonson's tenure as superintendent -- to determine whether State Police brass have a habit of living it up on the public's dime.   

The controversy engulfing the State Police does not end there. Perhaps more ominously, federal authorities last week issued subpoenas to more than a dozen members of the Louisiana State Troopers Association's board of directors, furthering a months-old inquiry into a series of unlawful campaign contributions the nonprofit made in 2014 and 2015. 

"The cloud over the State Police would be partially lifted with (Edmonson's) departure," said Rafael Goyeneche, president of the Metropolitan Crime Commission, a watchdog group that has grown increasingly critical of Edmonson.  

While Edmonson downplayed the role the various controversies had in his decision to retire, he acknowledged that the headlines had become a distraction.

"My desire is that making this decision will ultimately return a sense of normalcy to an agency with a very important mission and an incredibly proud history," his statement said in part.

U.S. Sen. John Kennedy, who had called on Edmonson to step down amid the travel scandal, issued a news release Wednesday saying that Edmonson "made the right decision" and urging auditors and other investigators to continue their scrutiny of State Police travel.

Edmonson's retirement brings to an end a decorated law enforcement career during which he became the face of the State Police, an agency that first employed him in 1981 as a patrol officer. He later served as a spokesman for the agency's Baton Rouge-based Troop A and, for a time, managed the agency's training academy.

Edwards' decision to retain Edmonson as superintendent, following his upset victory over former U.S. Sen. David Vitter, was an unusual one. According to Edmonson, the new governor told him on the night of the election, at a party at the Hotel Monteleone, that he had never even considered another candidate for superintendent. It didn't hurt that Edwards came from a family of lawmen, and that Edmonson enjoyed widespread support among Louisiana's sheriffs, and others.  

"Mike has been an impressive law enforcement figure through not only his dedication to his job but his ability to work under totally disparate party politics — a Republican governor as well as a Democratic — and be as effective under one as the other," said Harry Rosenberg, a former U.S. attorney in New Orleans. 

Edmonson for years had been rumored to be mulling a run for political office, including lieutenant governor. But he insisted he could make a bigger impact in his role at State Police, which in addition to his law enforcement duties he came to view as "a marketer of Louisiana, because I know every inch of it."

"I know the culture. I know the people. I know the places. I know what works and doesn't work," Edmonson said in a lengthy interview last summer. "It drives me to know that I can make a difference every single day in someone's life. To me, that's fulfillment."

Edmonson added that he has never liked to use "the word power, but look at the authority and the responsibility I have -- for good. I get to do the right thing. I don't have to go left or right. I don't need to take things that aren't mine."

An Alexandria native who before blowing out his knee aspired to play professional baseball, Edmonson was a recognizable face in Louisiana long before he took the reins at State Police, having provided on-field security to LSU football coaches for 26 seasons dating back to Jerry Stovall in 1980. That role, in which he flanked the likes of Nick Saban following nationally televised bowl games, exposed Edmonson to the adrenaline of prime time.

Over his 35-year career with State Police, Edmonson never lost his taste for the limelight. He spoke frequently and enthusiastically at news conferences and met countless dignitaries and officeholders. He addressed the national media during tragedies like the 2015 mass shooting inside a Lafayette movie theater and, a year later, in the wake of the fatal shooting of three law enforcement officers in Baton Rouge. 

"I need to be the person who helps us get through these dark hours," Edmonson said last year.  

Over his nine-year tenure, Edmonson traveled the world on the state's behalf, discussing the challenges confronting law enforcement at a time of cellphone videos and 24-hour news cycles. He drew criticism at times for his vocal and unapologetic support of troopers accused of using excessive force, including a racially charged controversy in the French Quarter in 2013 in which plainclothes troopers were recorded forcefully subduing two youths on Conti Street.

State Police ultimately cleared all of the officers involved, even after Edmonson acknowledged the footage had been "unsettling" to watch. 

"It's easy to take a tape and pick it apart, but my troopers are dealing with a lot of people who are intoxicated and a lot of unknowns," Edmonson said following a similar controversy last year in which a trooper body-slammed an Illinois man on Bourbon Street — an arrest that also was captured on video and viewed more than a half million times online.  

Edmonson was not above disciplining his own, however, and once flew to Monroe to personally take the badge of a veteran evidence custodian who had been caught smuggling cocaine

Edmonson attributed his initial interest in law enforcement to the shine of his grandfather's shoes when he wore his Rapides Parish Sheriff's Office uniform. "He used to tell me that how you look will bring people to you," Edmonson recalled. "But how you treat them will keep them there."

As head of the State Police, Edmonson preached the value of partnerships and communication as what he considered law enforcement's most valuable assets. After assuming his role as superintendent, he traveled across Louisiana, meeting more than 300 police chiefs and the sheriffs of all 64 parishes.

At the time, Edmonson said, the state's law enforcement community was more given to rivalry and dissonance than effective collaboration. The lack of communication had never been more apparent than in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. When Edmonson made the rounds, some chiefs in smaller communities did not even have functioning radios, an essential technology the State Police then provided to them through memorandums of understanding. 

"Col. Edmonson has always emphasized that it doesn't matter the color of your uniform or the shape of your badge," said Mike Knaps, the former police chief of Baker who now serves as a legislative committee member for the Louisiana Association of Chiefs of Police. "We all have one purpose."

Edmonson survived a number of earlier controversies, including one in 2014 involving his retirement benefits. That scandal involved a law, passed without discussion on the final day of the legislative session, that would have significantly boosted Edmonson's lifelong pension. He later said he would not accept the benefits amid a legal challenge to the law, which critics derided as unconstitutional.

In the interview Wednesday, Edmonson ruled out a future run for public office but said he would like to remain engaged. He's known no other life than the State Police for 36 years. 

"I don't know what life will be without that," he said. "I want to take a pause, look at my options in front of me."

Edmonson acknowledged his leadership of the agency had become a distraction, but he insisted he has no fear any of the pending investigations would compromise him.

"There is nothing that I'm afraid of coming out," he said. "The truth is the truth, and those things will happen regardless. I'm very confident in my tenure as superintendent."

"This organization will survive anything," he added, "even the things yet to come."

Follow Jim Mustian on Twitter, @JimMustian.