When filing a complaint against Louisiana State Police, the complaint form that one fills out has language that essentially turns it into an affidavit. Headquarters building at Louisiana State Police in Baton Rouge photographed Friday, March 31, 2017.

The State Police Commission on Thursday drastically reduced the punishment three state troopers received last year for taking a lavish "side trip" to Las Vegas while driving to a law enforcement conference in California.

The commission, which acts as a civil service board for the Louisiana State Police, deemed the discipline too harsh and voted to restore the former ranks of two of the troopers demoted in the scandal, Derrell Williams and Rodney Hyatt, while overturning a letter of reprimand issued to the third trooper, Thurman D. Miller.

The commission also reversed the salary reductions Williams and Hyatt received from Col. Kevin Reeves, the State Police superintendent, but ordered both troopers to serve suspensions as a less severe form of punishment.

Williams, who had been the head of the agency's internal affairs division at the time of the trip, received a 40-hour suspension, while Hyatt will be sidelined for 500 hours.

A fourth trooper on the trip, Alexandr Nezgodinsky, received a letter of counseling, a form of discipline that may not be appealed under State Police Commission rules. 

The decision marked a setback for Reeves, who testified at length last month about the lasting damage the so-called side trip has had on the reputation of State Police around Louisiana. He had urged the commission to uphold the discipline to send a message to troopers that abusing taxpayer dollars — and the public trust — would not be tolerated. 

"We disagree with the outcome but are certainly respectful of the State Police Commission's appeal process and decision," Reeves said Thursday. "I appreciate the commission's work and the careful consideration they demonstrated throughout the process. I will be meeting with my senior staff and (legal advisers) to determine how we move forward."

A State Police investigation determined the troopers improperly charged the public for thousands of dollars in overtime while taking a circuitous route to the California conference, including overnight stays at a Las Vegas casino resort and the Grand Canyon. The internal inquiry made clear that the troopers treated the trip like a vacation and took their time driving to San Diego. 

But the commission largely sided with the troopers, who claimed they had been scapegoated for a scandal that embarrassed the State Police and prompted the retirement of Mike Edmonson, the agency's longest-serving superintendent. 

The troopers insisted that Edmonson had approved the side trip and even encouraged the troopers to take a scenic route to the 2016 International Association of Chiefs of Police Conference in San Diego.

Edmonson claimed he had not authorized the taxpayer-funded journey, but text messages and phone records later emerged showing he remained in contact with the troopers as they traversed the country in a State Police SUV.

Hyatt, who received the harshest discipline, was in touch with Edmonson and at least one other member of the State Police command staff throughout the trip. He told the commission he handled the group's accommodations along the way and that Edmonson encouraged the troopers to have "a good time."  

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"This wasn't about us," Miller told the commission during a four-day appeal hearing last month. "This was about Col. Edmonson."

Edmonson stepped down shortly after the internal affairs inquiry found that he had admonished Hyatt to delete text messages from his cellphone — a potentially criminal allegation.

The FBI has been investigating a series of alleged improprieties during Edmonson's nine-year tenure, according to law enforcement sources, but the federal probe has not resulted in any charges.

The troopers, in their appeal, noted that they had reimbursed the state for expenses related to the trip, even as they insisted they had not knowingly violated State Police policy and said they had never been trained on state travel regulations. Williams, for his part, did not claim overtime and testified that he actually worked more hours during the conference than he claimed on timesheets. 

Edmonson authorized several State Police representatives to fly to the conference, but he asked Hyatt, Williams, Miller and Nezgodinsky to drive so that he could have a State Police SUV at his disposal in California. He said he believed driving actually would be the cheapest mode of transportation, but a legislative audit determined the journey resulted in several thousand dollars in "unnecessary" taxpayer expenditures. 

The commission had the option to uphold, amend or overturn the troopers' discipline. 

The discipline Williams received stemmed from his use of a state cellphone for personal communications. Investigators found that, after checking into a Las Vegas hotel, Williams took a photograph of a bed and sent it to a female friend. "Has your name all over it," he wrote. "Look at the bar at the top of the headboard. What do you think that is for?"

The same friend sent Williams a photograph of her genitalia a couple of days later in an email with the subject "No panties Sunday." Two days after that exchange, Williams sent the woman an image of himself "seated in the desert with a cactus protruding between (his) legs," according to State Police records.

Williams testified that he did not realize he had been using his State Police email account during those exchanges. He said he uses both personal and state email accounts on his cellphone. 

Follow Jim Mustian on Twitter, @JimMustian.