Mom: Port Allen officer racially profiled my son in traffic stop; police chief vigorously denies claim _lowres (copy)

Port Allen Police Chief Esdron Brown speaks at a 2014 breakfast meeting.

A second former Port Allen police officer has filed a lawsuit alleging Police Chief Esdron Brown consistently forced his religion on his officer corps through mandatory meetings, and further claimed the chief used God's will as reasoning for unjust promotions. 

Robert Cannon Jr., who resigned from the city's department in April, filed a federal civil rights case against the Port Allen Police Department last week, alleging the chief's repeated mention of religion and religious-focused meetings created a hostile work environment. Cannon also asserts the chief declined to comply with a reasonable medical accommodation for him during his patrols, an alleged violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act. 

In June, another former officer, Patrick Marshall, filed a federal civil rights case against the Port Allen Police Department and Brown, claiming Brown tried to force him to attend those mandatory religious counseling meetings, and when the officer refused, Brown retaliated with disciplinary actions that included threats of suspension or job termination. Marshall resigned from the city's police force in November 2017. 

Cannon's lawsuit alleges a pastor conducted the mandatory monthly meetings, where "all police officers in attendance were required to pray."

He also asserted that Brown often cited God in inappropriate ways with his employees. The lawsuit alleges that in 2016 when Cannon spoke with Brown about his child's illness, Brown blamed Cannon and his lack of faith.

"You're not walking in God's perfect purpose like I am and … it's your fault and (your) actions that is causing this, you need to submit to [God's] authority," the lawsuit claims Brown said. In an interview Tuesday, Cannon would not say how he had recorded Brown's statements from that time, but stood by their accuracy.  

The lawsuit also alleges Brown improperly promoted an officer to a new rank despite not meeting the service requirements because "God told him to." When Cannon asked Brown about the decision, the chief said, "God said promote him anyway so I did," the lawsuit alleges.

Cannon said in an interview Tuesday that he does identify as a Christian, but the way the chief used religion was unacceptable and imposing. 

His lawsuit also claims the chief denied Cannon's request for a medical accommodation. Cannon said on Tuesday he was diagnosed with a blood disorder that made regulating his body temperature difficult. The lawsuit claims that Cannon showed Brown a a doctor's note explaining that leaving his police unit running while responding to calls would allow him to better regulate his temperature, but the chief refused the request. And after Cannon filed an official complaint about the denial, Brown demoted from a shift supervisor with no explanation, the lawsuit alleges.  

Cannon, a lifelong law enforcement officer who has since taken a job with the East Baton Rouge Sheriff's Office, was honored in 2016 for his response to two life-threatening incidents while off duty.  In the summer of 2016, he and another man helped pull an elderly woman from a truck that overturned on the new Mississippi River Bridge in Baton Rouge while driving to work. About two weeks after, he helped rescue a man trapped inside his SUV when he ran off the road and crashed into a bayou in Lafourche Parish. 

The Port Allen council declared Aug. 10, 2016 as "Officer Robert Cannon Day" for his efforts, and Brown awarded Cannon with a valor pin.

Brown did not return email and phone messages Tuesday seeking comment. Brown is an elected chief, serving his second term in office.

Port Allen Mayor Richard Lee said he could not comment on any pending litigation against the city until it's resolved. Lee added he has not yet seen the latest lawsuit. 

"The people in Port Allen are really good people," Cannon said Tuesday. "It's a shame that you have a man that’s in a trusted position, that people look up to and people admire, to have him abuse that trust … by invoking his own Christian beliefs so much that it creates something that’s hostile.”

Follow Grace Toohey on Twitter, @grace_2e.