Baker police Sgt. Adam Wayne Procell

Baker police Sgt. Adam Wayne Procell

A civil service board voted Thursday to uphold the firing of a Baker police officer who was terminated last year over the way he handled a shots fired call that ended in the backyard of Ben Gautreaux, son of East Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff Sid Gautreaux.

Sgt. Adam Procell appealed his termination to the Baker Municipal Fire and Police Civil Service Board, which held an appeal hearing in June. The board then decided to uphold the termination in a 3-2 vote Thursday afternoon.

On the morning of April 27, 2017, Procell responded to an alarm at Aspire Academy Charter School, but then heard gunshots and began canvassing a wooded area across the street, behind the Walmart on Plank Road. During the investigation, Procell came upon Ben Gautreaux, the sheriff's son, and discovered that Gautreaux had shot at a snake in his backyard.

He didn't arrest Gautreaux, who was later issued a misdemeanor summons after Procell gave the case to other officers.

Procell was then arrested himself, accused of essentially giving Gautreaux a pass even though he admitted to firing a gun in his backyard, which violated a Baker ordinance that forbids firearm discharges within city limits. But East Baton Rouge District Attorney Hillar Moore III declined to press charges after determining the officer had acted within the law and did everything you "would want someone to do in that situation." 

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Procell's attorney, Chris Alexander, was visibly angered by the civil service board's decision on Thursday, calling the three board members who voted to uphold the termination "cowards."

"For you to sit here and simply make a blanket assertion that this decision was made in good faith for cause without backing it up … is disgusting and it’s cowardly," said Alexander, who then requested an explanation from the board members. "I would like to congratulate and commend the two men on this board who made the courageous decision and the right decision."

The board chairman, Robert "Andrew" Booth, and James Cross, another board member who voted to uphold the termination, responded by explaining their thinking behind their votes. The three other board members declined to do so.

“Officer Procell’s behavior, in my opinion, was unprofessional,” Booth said in part. “As the appointing authority is concerned, he had lost confidence in Mr. Procell’s performing  the job.”

Cross focused on what he called the serious nature of the shooting incident but encouraged Procell to "put this behind him." Procell declined to comment on the decision and forwarded all questions to his attorney.

Baker Police Chief Carl Dunn told The Advocate the board's vote was the "absolute correct decision."

"It was just a big cloud of smoke," Dunn said. "I should have gotten a 5-0 vote, but I'll take that 3-2."

A group of family and friends, including one man wearing a #FreeProcell shirt, sat behind the officer to support him during the meeting. John Champagne, a former board member himself, questioned why it took multiple months for the board to come to a decision.

“I think y'all failed the taxpayers,” Champagne said. “I’ve never, ever seen a board take two or three months to determine the fate of an employee. We’ve had 11 hour hearings before and we determined at the end of that hearing what took place and we ruled on it."

Procell sued Dunn and his department earlier this year, alleging his arrest was made "recklessly, maliciously and without foundation in law." Procell claimed Dunn sought criminal charges against him as retaliation for supporting the department's previous administration and former chief. Procell's attorney, Alexander, said Thursday that he plans to "absolutely (go) forward with (the lawsuit)."

Procell had recently applied for a job with the East Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff's Office when he investigated the shooting. Alexander alleges in the lawsuit that Dunn knew his officer was in the final stages of the hiring process and sought to "sabotage (his) prospects and opportunities." Dunn denies that.

"I have lost probably seven people to the sheriff's office," Dunn said in an interview Thursday. " I would never, ever, ever. … I love everybody. I promote everybody. I want to see everybody do wonderful and good. They had to make up an excuse because he had no excuse for his behavior on that day."

Procell's arrest warrant states he repeatedly told Ben Gautreaux he wouldn't do anything about the shooting and that the city ordinance forbidding such discharges is "BS." The warrant references body camera footage from the encounter.

But Procell has since challenged the claim that the footage shows he acted improperly. He and another former Baker officer told WAFB-TV that Procell was actually referring to Ben Gautreaux's cluttered backyard — not his ordinance violation — when he told the man "I'm not going to say nothing." 

The officers left after a few minutes of questioning Gautreaux. But Procell called Dunn as he was leaving and was told to return to the house, seize weapons and bring Ben Gautreaux to the station for further questioning — all of which the officer did. Procell then asked his partner to take over the investigation. 

Baker police later issued Ben Gautreaux a misdemeanor summons for violating the city ordinance.

Procell has been unemployed since the incident and his attorney has said Procell "can't work in law enforcement until this is over and his name is cleared."

Follow Lea Skene on Twitter, @lea_skene.