Two former Baton Rouge policemen fired in 2014 after their indictment on abuse of office charges but acquitted by a jury earlier this year won't get their jobs back, the city's civil service board has ruled.
Ex-officers Travis D. Wheeler, 29, and Emerson J. Jackson, 34, had sought to overturn their firings after being acquitted at a January trial. The pair had been accused of acting as lookouts while a third officer, Isaac Bolden, allegedly coerced a woman to perform a sex act on him while at a BREC park. Bolden was also acquitted.
But the Municipal Fire and Police Civil Service Board, after hearing two days of emotional testimony from the alleged victim as well as witnesses in the case, voted 4 to 1 last week to uphold Baton Rouge Police Chief Carl Dabadie Jr.'s decision to fire the officers for "violation of law," a disciplinary charge leveled against Jackson and Wheeler by Dabadie following their felony indictments in 2014.
Cpl. Robert Moruzzi, a police representative on the board, cast the lone dissenting vote.
An attorney for Jackson and Wheeler, Chris Sonnier, vowed to appeal the board's decision in court. During the hearing, Sonnier argued that a 19th Judicial District jury's unanimous "not guilty" verdict in January exonerated both men and should clear them of violating the law in the Baton Rouge Police Department's disciplinary processes, too.
The board tossed out several additional disciplinary charges against the officers — all for allegedly violating department policies, such as being untruthful and failing to carry out orders — on procedural grounds at the beginning of the two-day hearing. But the board allowed the charge of "violation of laws" to stand.
In upholding the firing, the board determined that Dabadie acted "in good faith and for just cause" at the time he decided to fire the two officers, said Julie Cherry, the board's chairwoman. The officers were fired two days after a grand jury indicted them and Bolden in November 2014.
The officers' accuser, who was 20 at the time of the alleged Feb. 2, 2014 incident, testified before the board that she was in the park after hours with a male companion when the officers arrived.
She said Bolden walked her to a corner of the park and propositioned her, telling her he wanted a "10-minute girlfriend" before explaining "he just wanted to have sex."
"Then I could go home," she told the board.
The woman said she was crying and in disbelief, hoping Bolden might be kidding, before eventually feeling she had no choice. Bolden led her back into her car, where she testified that he had her perform oral sex on him.
She said she never told Jackson or Wheeler that Bolden had propositioned her or that he'd made her perform oral sex. But she said she could see Jackson while she was with Bolden and that "I figured they knew what was going on."
Sonnier attacked the woman's credibility on cross-examination, challenging her over discrepancies between statements she gave to detectives, her testimony at trial and what she told the board Thursday.
When pressed on particular details, she said testifying about the night is both "embarrassing" and extremely emotional, making it tough to keep every detail straight.
"When you get emotional, do you not tell the truth?" Sonnier shot back.
Other witnesses, including the male friend the alleged victim was with at the time, took the stand after the woman's emotional testimony. The Baton Rouge Police Department also introduced evidence from the criminal and internal affairs investigations, including phone records and GPS data from the officers' patrol vehicles, to bolster their case.
Much of that evidence was also introduced during the officers' trial in January. A six-person jury deliberated for 90 minutes before acquitting the three ex-officers.
Yigal Bander, Bolden's attorney, said last week that his client doesn't want to return to his job with the Police Department, but he has filed a lawsuit against the city, seeking back pay and benefits from the time Bolden lost his job until he was acquitted by the jury.
The city-parish has said Bolden resigned from the department months before he was indicted. But his attorney disputes that, contending in court filings that he was involuntarily terminated on Feb. 28, 2014 — about three weeks after the alleged sexual assault — after refusing to resign.