Two Baton Rouge officers fired Friday, indicted this week in sex case _lowres

Emerson Jackson, left, and Travis Wheeler

The state Supreme Court has upheld the firing of two Baton Rouge police officers who were accused, but found not guilty, of acting as lookouts while a third officer allegedly sexually assaulted a woman at a BREC park in 2014.

An appeal by former officers Emerson Jackson, 37, and Travis Wheeler, 32, was denied Monday by the high court, which did not offer written reasons.

The ex-officers' attorney said Wednesday that he will not file any further appeals on their behalf.

"I believe it's over. It's over on my end," lawyer Kyle Kershaw said. "I think it's the end of the road."

Prosecutors alleged Jackson and Wheeler stood by as Isaac Bolden, 45, forced a young woman to perform a sex act on him at Old Hammond Park on Feb. 4, 2014.

All three officers were acquitted by an East Baton Rouge Parish jury on abuse of office charges in 2017, but they had already lost their jobs — and the Municipal Fire and Police Civil Service Board upheld their terminations.

After state District Judge Wilson Fields ruled last fall that members of the civil service board "went outside their scope of authority,” the state 1st Circuit Court of Appeal reversed Fields' ruling and reinstated the board's decision in January.

The appellate court said the board's decision was “based upon substantial and competent evidence." Even though the officers were acquitted in court, there was a “preponderance of the evidence” that the officers acted inappropriately, 1st Circuit Chief Judge Vanessa Whipple wrote for the court.

A “preponderance of the evidence” is a lower standard of proof than “beyond a reasonable doubt,” which is required for a criminal conviction. A preponderance of the evidence is enough to justify a firing, the appeals court said.

East Baton Rouge Parish District Attorney Hillar Moore III has said jurors indicated after the trial that they believed something occurred in the park. But jurors said they wanted more evidence, particularly some form of physical evidence such as DNA, to convict.

The men did not testify at their trial.

The officers' accuser, who was 20 at the time of the alleged incident, testified she was in the park after hours with a male companion when the officers arrived. She said the officers allowed the man to leave, leaving her alone with them. Bolden, she testified, told her he wanted a "10-minute girlfriend."

The appeals court said the record supports a finding that Jackson and Wheeler "knowingly and intentionally used the authority of their office to coerce the victim to provide sex to the third officer.”

The civil service board had explained in court filings that it believed Jackson and Wheeler "were guilty of malfeasance in office and failing to protect" the woman involved, and called the men "accessories."

Jackson and Wheeler were fired two days after a grand jury indicted them and Bolden in late 2014. Bolden resigned months before the grand jury returned the indictment, the city-parish has said, but Bolden claimed he was involuntarily terminated about three weeks after the alleged sexual assault after he refused to resign.

Wheeler works for the Baker Police Department, according to Kershaw. The employment status of Jackson and Bolden is unknown.


Email Joe Gyan Jr. at jgyan@theadvocate.com.