The Lafayette Police Department has had five different leaders or acting leaders in the past two years since Mayor-President Josh Guillory took office, including three just in the past two weeks.
On Thursday, Cydra Wingerter, chief administrative officer for Lafayette Consolidated Government, released a statement that Interim Chief Wayne Griffin, in the position only two weeks, was being placed on administrative leave pending an investigation into sexual harassment allegations against him.
Major Monte Potier, a 28-year department veteran, was named to take command of the department during the investigation.
Potier most recently served as services commander and has steadily worked his way through the department over his career. Last year he served as an assistant to Interim Chief Scott Morgan, and previously worked in youth services, the traffic unit and criminal investigations, among others. Before joining law enforcement, Potier served four years in the Army, according to a resume provided by the Lafayette Police Department.
While Potier is assuming department command, LCG spokesperson Jamie Angelle said that Griffin still carries the interim chief title and has not been removed from office. As acting chief, Potier will maintain management needs but all existing policies and procedures will remain in place, the spokesperson said.
The announcement came hours after Guillory said on KPEL’s Lafayette Live Thursday morning that a search for a new chief is not scheduled and his administration is “taking it day by day.”
“I have all the confidence in the world in Chief Griffin. So far I’ve seen him doing great things, good leadership and good pause about him, observing everything and keeping what’s good, developing things we can develop. I’m very proud to serve with him,” Guillory said at the time.
Lafayette Consolidated Government did not share details about the complaint or reveal the name of the complainant, stating only that LCG’s human resources department is coordinating with the police department’s internal affairs division to investigate the complaint. Guillory said in prepared comment his administration has “zero tolerance” for sexual harassment.
“All parties at issue” should not discuss the matter except with legal counsel and investigators, and no evidence should be destroyed, the release said.
Griffin assumed leadership of the department after Chief Thomas Glover Sr. was fired on Oct. 7 following a meeting at city hall with Guillory and Wingerter, who delivered the news. Glover said a reason was not given privately and in public, the administration has called the matter a “personnel issue” and declined to comment.
Glover and others have pushed publicly for transparency around his firing. Community members and activists pushed the issue at Tuesday’s Lafayette City Council meeting, where activist Marja Broussard first shared that Griffin would face a sexual harassment complaint.
Sungil Han, a visiting assistant professor at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, studies criminal justice, including the relationship between police and their communities. Han said that strong community ties contribute significantly to a department’s success, and frequent disruption can damage that trust, especially when potential scandal or murky circumstances surround the leadership changes.
Guillory’s administration will need to work quickly to stabilize department leadership, he said.
“The absence of leadership due to scandal can undermine the reputation of police in the city overall, leading to low levels of confidence in the police. The support and confidence of local residents is key for successful police activities in communities. We expect more cooperation from local residents when they hold higher levels of confidence in the police,” Han said.
Healthy community relationships further hinge on strong and consistent community policing efforts, which may fall by the wayside during leadership shifts. It’s typical for officers to focus on routine work, like patrolling, rather than interacting with the community and building relationships when leadership is in flux, Han said.
Thursday afternoon before Griffin’s leave was announced, the Lafayette Police Department promoted a Monday evening community walk from the Martin Luther King Recreation Center on Cora Street through surrounding neighborhoods. Griffin, department command staff and officers were slated to attend.
The department did not reply to questions about whether the walk is still taking place before this story went to publication.
Community policing and repairing the department’s community image after the police shooting death of Trayford Pellerin in August 2020 was a vocal focus of Glover’s. The night before his firing, Glover attended a community town hall with local elected officials to discuss the department’s policing efforts and community work.
The ousted police chief has accused Guillory of playing political games with police department leadership and subverting Glover’s efforts to reform the department, which on his face he professed to support.
The former chief said efforts to build public confidence in department efforts, like a press release about the location of new license-plate reading cameras in high-crime zones, a proposed initiative to combat youth crime and a press conference to announce a local, state and federal law enforcement partnership, were all canned.
The public needs to hear about progress frequently to feel empowered to get involved, Glover said, and those efforts were dampened.
Glover isn’t the first police chief Guillory has pushed or pressured out of office.
Former Chief Toby Aguillard, who was appointed in November 2016 under Mayor-President Joel Robideaux, resigned from the department on Jan. 6, 2020 when Guillory assumed office. Aguillard said he was blindsided by Guillory’s request to resign or be fired in a private December 2019 meeting. He initially planned to fight for his job, but instead resigned with a $70,000 settlement.
Guillory said Aguillard’s strained relationship with Lafayette Sheriff Mark Garber contributed to his decision to seek Aguillard’s replacement.
It took a calendar year to replace Aguillard, with two nationwide searches netting a small pool of candidates, most of whom were local or from Louisiana. Interim Chief Scott Morgan, who’s spent over 25 years at LPD, led the department during the search and transition. Morgan came in a neutral party, stating from the outset he had no plans to put his name in the ring for permanent department leadership.