A newly released State Police report contains potentially criminal allegations against Mike Edmonson, the agency's former longtime superintendent, including a claim that he deleted text messages on the eve of his retirement as the agency was investigating four troopers who charged taxpayers for overtime and expensive stays at the Grand Canyon and a Las Vegas casino resort as they drove to a law enforcement conference in California.
The report also concludes it was "obvious" that Edmonson knew all along about the scenic detours the troopers took on their cross-country trek to San Diego last year, even though Edmonson insisted publicly that he had not approved of the so-called side trip and condemned it as "irresponsible."
In fact, cellphone records showed Edmonson had been in touch with the troopers throughout the trip, and that he received photos of the troopers sightseeing and posing in front of the Hoover Dam.
But perhaps the most startling allegation in the report involves an interaction in March between Edmonson and Rodney Hyatt, a trooper who was recently demoted for submitting falsified time sheets from the road trip and disregarding other State Police policies.
Two Louisiana State Police troopers avoided suspension and received only minor discipline for taking an unauthorized "side trip" last year to …
When Edmonson retired in March, he claimed he had been considering stepping aside for months, seeking to distance himself from the controversial side trip and other scandals that had called his leadership into question. But the new report, obtained by The Advocate in response to a public-records request, shows that Edmonson announced his decision to retire just one day after internal investigators briefed him on "several concerns" they had about the troopers' trip.
On March 14, the same day the investigators briefed Edmonson, the then-superintendent met with Hyatt at a Louisiana Trooper Foundation meeting and told him he had decided to step down.
Edmonson then took Hyatt's cellphone and altered its settings so it would purge any text messages older than 30 days, according to the State Police report, warning the trooper that they would otherwise remain on the device "forever."
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Hyatt was under administrative investigation at the time, and records obtained by The Advocate show he had been questioned by his superiors 12 days before Edmonson deleted the messages.
By the time investigators recovered Hyatt's phone records, there were no relevant text messages to speak of, but call logs did show that Edmonson had been in regular contact with Hyatt as the group of troopers made their journey to San Diego.
"Lt. Hyatt explained the settings feature was set to keep text messages forever until Col. Edmonson changed it," Capt. David McClendon wrote in the internal affairs report. "Therefore, he had no texts/Imessages on his phone from 2016."
The new State Police report comes as the state Legislative Auditor's Office is finalizing what is expected to be a scathing assessment of Edmonson's tenure as head of the State Police, a separate investigation that is expected to show Edmonson abused his power and took repeated handouts, according to several people familiar with its findings.
Gov. John Bel Edwards ordered that audit of State Police travel practices following The Advocate's initial report on the Las Vegas trip.
Edmonson did not return calls or text messages seeking comment for this article. The State Police report shows that Edmonson, after retiring, refused on at least two occasions to give a statement or otherwise cooperate with his former colleagues as they investigated the troopers' road trip.
The State Police report contains the first public allegations that Edmonson interfered with the investigation into the excursion that forced him into early retirement. The state statute on obstruction of justice forbids "tampering with evidence with the specific intent of distorting the results of any criminal investigation or proceeding."
When news broke this year that a group of high-ranking state troopers had charged the state for a lavish excursion they took to Las Vegas whil…
Rafael Goyeneche, a former prosecutor who is president of the watchdog Metropolitan Crime Commission in New Orleans, said the allegations also could form the basis of a prosecution for malfeasance in office or even "injuring public records," a statute that forbids the destruction of public records. But he noted that authorities, under state law, would not be permitted to use Hyatt's statements to internal investigators in a criminal proceeding against Edmonson.
"This report just seems to confirm the worst-case scenario for Mike Edmonson's tenure as superintendent of the State Police," Goyeneche said in an interview. "This isn't the end, by any stretch. This was the head of the most prestigious law enforcement agency in the state of Louisiana."
It's not clear whether the State Police have referred their findings to any prosecutorial agency. Maj. Doug Cain, a State Police spokesman, said Thursday that the agency "continues to offer our full cooperation, and we are confident that at the appropriate time all of the facts will be made public and the appropriate action will be taken."
"This continues to be an ongoing process," Cain said.
The investigation stemmed from the Las Vegas trip, an excursion that involved four troopers who drove a state SUV to the October 2016 International Association of Chiefs of Police conference in San Diego. The group included Derrell Williams, who was then a major overseeing the State Police's Internal Affairs Division; Senior Trooper Thurman Miller; and Trooper Alexandr Nezgodinsky. Hyatt also rode along and received permission from Edmonson to bring his wife.
The troopers were among about 15 people the State Police sent to the California conference, where Edmonson received a national award. Most of the State Police contingent flew to the conference, but Edmonson authorized the four troopers to drive there, citing a need to have a vehicle to attend events away from the main conference site.
The troopers took several days to make it to San Diego, and, instead of driving directly to the conference, stopped one afternoon and checked into two suites at the Palazzo, a ritzy resort and casino in Las Vegas. The newly released State Police records show Hyatt charged taxpayers for overtime pay that day for hours he spent sightseeing and even seeing a show.
Mike Edmonson knew one pace during his nine years as superintendent of the Louisiana State Police, a job that kept him constantly on the go. B…
In February, when The Advocate first asked Edmonson about the troopers' travel expenses, he insisted he had not authorized the side trips to Las Vegas and the Grand Canyon.
"These are all people who have respected positions in State Police. I certainly trust them, but I'm disappointed in them claiming overtime hours and I'm disappointed in the side trip to Vegas," he said at the time. "They need to explain to me why they thought that was an important thing to do, and we'll look at it from that perspective. The bottom line is I expect more from these individuals, and I'm not happy about it."
But text messages that investigators recovered from the cellphone of Hyatt's wife showed Edmonson stayed in constant contact with the group as they drove across the country.
"Y'all better get to San Diego!" Edmonson wrote in response to photos of the troopers posing in front of the Hoover Dam and the Grand Canyon. His next message to Hyatt's wife included a smiley-face emoji.
In another message, Edmonson remarked that it appeared the group was "having fun."
According to Hyatt, that had been his directive before the four troopers set out for San Diego. In a recent letter to State Police brass, he said Edmonson "knew our whereabouts the entire trip."
"I have never taken my wife in my entire 20-year career to any work related conference. Had Edmonson not told me to, I would not have brought her," Hyatt wrote. "However, being a paramilitary organization, I took his order to mean that I am going to the conferences in San Diego with my wife, and we were to have a good time and drive there."
Hyatt recently was demoted from lieutenant to sergeant for violating a host of State Police policies in taking the side trip. Williams was demoted from a major to a lieutenant. Miller received a letter of reprimand, while Nezgodinsky received counseling.