Baton Rouge police make diversity progress; fire department lags _lowres

Advocate staff photo by BILL FEIG -- Cadets double time back to the classroom for instruction. The 81st Basic Training Academy of the Baton Rouge Police Department begins. The class consists of 27 recruits Ð 11 Black males, 9 White males, 1 Asian male, 1 Hispanic male, 3 Black females, 1 White female and 1 other female. The academy is scheduled to run for 22 weeks. After leaving the Basic Academy, the graduates will be partnered with veteran officers in the Field Training Program.

Former New Orleans police officer Henry L. Hollins is serving a 45-year prison sentence at Angola after being convicted of picking up a woman in his police cruiser in 2009 and then attempting to rape her at gunpoint.

Hollins may have lost his freedom and his job. But he hasn't lost his certification to be a police officer in Louisiana.

Neither has Melvin Cosey Jr., who was fired in 2015 from the Baton Rouge Police Department following an arrest for choking and threatening his wife, or Desmond Pratt, another former New Orleans police officer who went to jail in 2014 for sexually assaulting three young girls.

In Louisiana, it's incredibly rare — rarer than in almost any other state — for law enforcement officers to have their certification revoked for bad behavior. In fact, in response to a request from The Advocate, the Louisiana Commission on Law Enforcement said only six officers have ever had their certification revoked for misconduct. All of those revocations have come in the last dozen years.

Louisiana has required Peace Officer Standards and Training, or POST, certification of its law enforcement personnel since 1976. While POST is specific to Louisiana, most states have a similar centralized certification process for law enforcement.

The Advocate submitted a list to the law enforcement commission of 42 Baton Rouge- and New Orleans-area officers known to have been terminated for documented misconduct or who resigned amid an investigation over the past 10 years. The commission confirmed that they all retain POST certification.

Ex-officers with felony convictions are prohibited from possessing weapons, which in turn prevents them from working in law enforcement. But others whose indiscretions and documented misconduct fell beneath the criminal threshold or ended in a misdemeanor conviction still qualify for jobs in the state, and at least a handful identified by The Advocate have found soft landings in other departments.

For example, there's Cody Malkiewicz, who was arrested for perjury and fired from the St. John the Baptist Parish Sheriff's Office in 2015 over allegations he lied while testifying in a drug case he was involved in. The following year, he was hired as a deputy by the St. James Parish Sheriff's Office.

Former NOPD officer Carey Dykes was fired in 2011 after internal affairs investigators tailed him twice as he left his post to have sex in a seedy motel while on the clock. He found work within the next year as a campus police officer at Delgado Community College, according to the school’s annual catalog, and got hired as a reserve deputy with the Orleans Parish Sheriff’s Office in 2016.

It's a problem around the country.

"A lot of times they don't decertify officers when a lot of times they ought to," said Philip Stinson, a professor of criminal justice at Bowling Green State University in Ohio who studies police misconduct.

Stinson recently reviewed thousands of cases of arrested and fired police officers, in partnership with The Wall Street Journal. The review found that almost 10 percent of officers with stained records — 340 out of about 3,400 cases — continue to work in law enforcement.

"I think it's systemic in the police subculture, these types of issues," Stinson said. "I'm not saying all cops are bad, but I think these problems are beyond blaming them on a few bad apples. The officers shuffle from one agency to another after disciplinary problems, even arrests. I assume many officers who commit crimes are never charged criminally."

While many states struggle with this issue, Louisiana is among the states least likely to revoke a police certification.

According to a 2015 Associated Press report, of the 43 states that certify officers at the state level, every one reported more revoked certifications for officer misconduct over a six-year period than Louisiana, though North Carolina didn’t disclose the information. Georgia decertified 2,800 officers. Mississippi, on the lower end, still outpaced Louisiana with 12 revocations.

And in Louisiana, those in other occupations with strict ethical standards that are overseen by governing boards, like doctors and lawyers, also have stricter enforcement of their certifications. The Louisiana Attorney Disciplinary Board has permanently disbarred 80 attorneys since 2007, and the Louisiana Board of Medical Examiners revoked 23 medical licenses since 2004. 

Lawmakers seek solutions

Over the course of the legislative session that ends Thursday, lawmakers have been working to close some of these gaps and impose stricter guidelines on law enforcement.

Most of the bills, sponsors said, were at least partially inspired by the fatal shooting of Alton Sterling, a 37-year-old black man, during a confrontation last summer with two white Baton Rouge police officers, Blane Salamoni and Howie Lake. The officers were cleared of a federal civil rights violation by a U.S. Department of Justice investigation, but could still face state charges or be terminated for department policy violations.

Baton Rouge Mayor-President Sharon Weston Broome has called for the firing of Salamoni, the policeman who shot Sterling and whose conduct was described as "reckless" by federal prosecutors and FBI agents in closed-door meetings with Sterling’s family and community activists.

Salamoni’s attorney, John McLindon, said those calling for the officer’s firing should wait for the process to unfold. And Chief Carl Dabadie Jr., who has the authority to make that decision, said in a letter to the mayor that he intends to wait for the criminal cases to conclude before making a decision about discipline.

Under law, state authorities can strip ex-officers of their POST certification only if they're fired for misconduct or criminally convicted and if the officer’s former agency specifically requests the certification be revoked. The one exception is for officers convicted of malfeasance in office, who lose their certification automatically.

The six decertifications that have occurred appear to have been triggered by requests from the agencies where the officers worked.

House Bill 473 takes aim at those guidelines, allowing the POST council to consider on its own revoking certifications for officers convicted of any felony or of a misdemeanor involving domestic abuse. Decertification could also be initiated if the officer was terminated for "disciplinary reasons involving criminal misconduct or civil rights violations."

Baton Rouge Rep. Ted James, a Democrat, said he thinks the bill doesn't go far enough and was hopeful the bill would prevent Salamoni — and cops with similar resumes — from being able to serve again.

"Felony convictions for cops, that isn't going to happen. We never see those happen," he said. "Especially with what we know about Salamoni. Let's just say if he was fired, he should lose his certification."

Gaines said he believes Salamoni could still be affected by the legislation because he could be terminated for what the department labels a civil rights violation, or he could be sued civilly and a court could determine the violation.

Rafael Goyeneche, president of the Metropolitan Crime Commission in New Orleans, said the bill is a step in the right direction.

"This is an improvement over what's currently on the books. It makes it easier to revoke officers' POST certification, and it expands the misconduct categories for which it can be revoked," he said.

But as long as officers have the ability to resign or retire while being investigated, in lieu of disciplinary action, many officers could still fall through the cracks.

Monroe Rep. Katrina Jackson, a Democrat, said her House Bill 481 would close that gap. The bill dramatically expands an existing but patchy database of law enforcement officers in the state, requiring agencies to report if their officers have criminal convictions, have lost their POST certifications or have resigned in lieu of termination. It also requires reserve officers and part-time officers to be POST-certified.

Jackson's bill, Goyeneche said, would help departments make better-informed decisions about new hires.

"That's something long overdue and needed," he said. "You don't want to hire someone else's cancer."

Jill Craft, a Baton Rouge attorney who has represented many civil service employees in wrongful termination lawsuits, said she thinks Gaines' bill is unconstitutionally broad. While there's room for improvement in the way the state oversees law enforcement certifications, she said, the onus is on the hiring agency.

"It's simply a matter of engaging in effective police work," Craft said. "You have officers who are responsible for investigating crimes. You're telling me that when you are trying to hire officers and give them public money, you can't investigate them?"

Baton Rouge Police Department spokesman Lt. Jonny Dunnam said officers in the department are held to high standards and would be terminated for any felony conviction. But the department has never sought to yank the POST credentials of officers who have been fired for misconduct or even convicted of serious crimes, and Dunnam isn't sure it should.

"I don't know where we have standing to say this officer doesn't deserve to ever serve again," Dunnam said.

When hiring officers from other departments, he said, the Baton Rouge deaprtment sends detectives to do background checks.

But not every law enforcement agency has the resources or the will to thoroughly vet applicants and dig into their records at other departments. Privacy rules covering officers' personnel files, disciplinary records and internal affairs investigations are also potential obstacles for those doing the hiring.

Dunnam said departments can request personnel files and internal affairs documents from an applicant's former agency, but the officer has to agree to release them. 

Falling through the cracks

Three years before Norris Greenhouse Jr. and another part-time Marksville deputy marshal opened fire at the end of a chase through the small Avoyelles Parish city — killing a 6-year-old boy, seriously wounding the child's father and putting the officers on trial — Greenhouse left his first job in law enforcement as a deputy at the Avoyelles Parish Sheriff’s Office under a dark cloud.

A woman filed a complaint against Greenhouse in January 2012 after coming home to find the deputy — in uniform, his gun belt and jacket strewn on the floor — lying on a couch with her teenage daughter at nearly 1 a.m. that morning, according to a recent court filing by prosecutors in the pending criminal case over the shooting. The woman ordered Greenhouse out, and he drove off in the patrol vehicle he’d parked just outside.

Although the ensuing internal investigation didn’t find evidence of sexual contact, Greenhouse told investigators he'd visited the girl’s home at least two other times while her mother was out, according to court records. He also admitted to sending a text message to a 16-year-old girl asking for photos of her breasts and deleting a slew of other Facebook and text messages to girls to hide them from his girlfriend.

The Sheriff’s Office promptly suspended the deputy, according to the filing, and Sheriff Doug Anderson said he fired Greenhouse — who’d spent less than two years at the agency — soon afterward.

“He violated too many policies with the department,” Anderson said Thursday. “I’m not going to tolerate that happening.”

But Greenhouse wasn't out of work for long. He began work almost immediately as a patrolman with the Marksville Police Department, just down the street from the Sheriff’s Office. He quit that job in 2014, though he continued to pick up occasional work in Marksville as a reserve officer, and landed as a full-time deputy for Alexandria City Marshal Terence Grines.

“As an applicant, I was OK with what he presented to me,” Grines said Friday, adding that the criminal cases against Greenhouse and Stafford — who also worked for Grines as a part-time deputy — have revealed allegations about the officers he never knew about.

Prosecutors with the Attorney General’s Office allege the incident that ended Greenhouse’s stint with the Avoyelles Parish Sheriff’s Office was just one entry in a pattern of his using his badge and uniform “to satisfy his sexual desires,” pointing to several other alleged incidents during his relatively brief career.

Greenhouse’s attorney, George Higgins, disputed each of those allegations — calling them unproven, scandalous and false — and said his client left the Avoyelles Parish Sheriff’s Office voluntarily for the position with Marksville police.

Anderson said Greenhouse’s continued employment in law enforcement bothered him. The sheriff said confidentiality rules limit what he can tell other agencies about a deputy he fired for misconduct. But Anderson said he can share one detail that should have conveyed a message about Greenhouse.

“He’s not eligible for rehire, and that kind of tells the story,” Anderson said.

The sheriff said he welcomes the proposal to revamp the state’s database on law enforcement officers.

“A lot of times, you’re not getting the whole story when you do your background investigations,” Anderson said. “If this goes through, it’s going to be a great thing for all of us.”

Follow Rebekah Allen on Twitter, @rebekahallen.