The former executive director of the State Police Commission filed a lawsuit this week claiming she was retaliated against for challenging State Police brass and calling attention to a string of illegal campaign contributions made by commission members.
Cathy Derbonne, who served as the commission's chief administrator for eight years, said she had no choice but to resign at the height of the scandal last year after commissioners threatened to humiliate her at a public meeting.
The commission acts as a civil service board for State Police, hearing complaints from rank-and-file troopers and deciding disciplinary appeals. It has been embroiled in a series of controversies over the past two years resulting in significant turnover on its board.
The lawsuit, filed Tuesday in 19th Judicial District Court, seeks back pay and benefits for "loss of earning capacity, humiliation and embarrassment, severe emotional distress and mental anguish."
It alleges Derbonne faced mounting pressure to step down after she called for an investigation into a series of improper political contributions made by three commission members who ended up resigning.
Derbonne also said she fell out of favor with the Louisiana State Troopers Association after that organization was accused of using a straw donor to give thousands of dollars to seven political candidates and the House Democratic Campaign Committee — improper donations that have drawn the attention of federal investigators.
Derbonne reported the troopers' political activities to Gov. John Bel Edwards and his executive counsel, as well as to the Louisiana Board of Ethics. She also hired an outside attorney, Taylor Townsend, a former state lawmaker from Natchitoches, to investigate the claims.
The lawsuit alleges the former chairman of the commission, Trooper T.J. Doss, accused Derbonne of violating commission rules and policy, adding she had "lost her mind." It says that Doss was assigned to State Police headquarters "with the purpose of closely monitoring and observing (Derbonne's) daily routine."
Shortly before she stepped down, Derbonne said she received an anonymous letter warning of a "an emerging plot" to remove her from office. The lawsuit claims she was "harassed and constructively discharged in reprisal" for her efforts to draw attention to wrongdoing on the commission.
"I didn't want to resign," she told The Advocate at the time, "but I didn't want to be tainted either."
The commission’s new executive director, Jason Hannaman, did not immediately return a call seeking comment on the lawsuit.