Baton Rouge Police Dept. Lt. Don Stone listens as Chief Murphy Paul, left, speaks on Aug. 16, 2018 at a press conference about crime in Baton Rouge.

A Baton Rouge district judge has temporarily barred the city's police chief from filling a top ranking vacancy in the department, granting the request of an officer who filed a recent lawsuit claiming the position is rightfully his. 

The judge's ruling presents the latest example of conflict between Chief Murphy Paul, who took office in 2018, and his subordinates. Paul has repeatedly butted heads with the department's union, including over a legislative proposal he supported last session seeking to allow the chief more discretion in the department's promotional process, which is otherwise confined to a rigid framework of civil service rules.

That bill has since been signed into law, and the pending civil suit challenges whether it applies to the promotion in question.

Lt. Don Stone, a longtime Baton Rouge police officer, sued the department last week claiming Paul is inappropriately acting in accordance with the new law, which went into effect March 31 and allows the chief to choose between the top five officers eligible for promotion instead of automatically promoting the most senior candidate. 

The captain position Stone seeks became available when Kevin Newman retired March 1, according to the lawsuit. Stone argues the position should be filled as required under the old law, which was in effect at that time. That means Stone should be promoted as the most senior candidate, according to the complaint.

Baton Rouge District Judge Timothy Kelley issued a temporary restraining order barring Paul from filling the position before a hearing scheduled for Friday morning when the judge will consider issuing a permanent injunction, court records show. BRPD declined to comment on pending litigation.

The lawsuit also alleges Paul has failed to meet a deadline that requires all vacancies to be filled within 60 days according to state civil service laws. Paul arranged interviews with several candidates but canceled Stone's interview ahead of time, the officer claims.

This isn't the first time Paul and Stone have publicly disagreed.

The chief issued an apology last year to the public after a 1993 photograph surfaced showing Stone and another officer posing in dark makeup, which the department explained was part of an undercover drug sting in a predominantly black neighborhood. "Blackface photographs are inappropriate and offensive," Paul said then. "They were inappropriate then and are inappropriate today."

He also said then that Stone wouldn't face any administrative ramifications because of the statute of limitation for internal investigations against officers.

When Paul addressed the state legislature about the proposed changes to the department's promotional process, he argued that department leadership should be able to consider factors other than seniority, including commendations, educational achievements, disciplinary issues or feedback from colleagues. 

The department's union opposed the bill, claiming it could deny veteran officers promotions they've earned through decades of service and suggesting this could be the first step in a planned assault on civil service protections that are themselves meant to prevent favoritism and political influence.

Changes to state civil service law must go through the legislature, though the changes in question apply only to the Baton Rouge Police Department. 

Paul has consistently advocated for measures he says would bring the department into the 21st century and build public trust by changing the culture of policing in Louisiana's capital city, even when that means apologizing for the past actions of his subordinates. His critics argue he's upending the established order of things, demonstrating an overall lack of transparency and causing morale to plummet. 

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