Moments after accused cop-killer Travis Boys was arrested in June, a New Orleans Police Department lieutenant got on the radio and ordered officers to check Boys for injuries and to keep their body-worn cameras rolling.
“The entire city’s eyes are on us,” the lieutenant said. “Everything will be done by the book.”
Those words, as recorded by federal monitors overseeing a 2012 NOPD reform agreement with the U.S. Department of Justice, exemplified what the monitors in their latest report describe as an honorable, professional and thorough investigation into how Boys was allegedly able to kill Officer Daryle Holloway.
Elsewhere in a report filed in court Friday, however, the federal watchdogs found plenty to criticize in how the NOPD handles incidents in which officers use force.
Many use-of-force investigations were troubled from the start by the lack of statements from officers who witnessed the event and by missing photographs of potentially bruised or wounded suspects, the monitors said. When officers fired guns, the police conducted thorough criminal investigations but flawed administrative reviews into whether the cops broke internal policies.
Eleven investigations of cases in which officers shot guns in 2014, the monitors found, were “deficient in several ways.” The monitors said they pestered the NOPD Force Investigation Team’s commander for months for copies of the reports and finally received eight case files, all dated between April 22-30 of this year.
“It was clear that the reports were assembled in haste to meet our demand. In one case, text from the report of one incident appeared in the report of an unrelated incident, as if it were cut and pasted,” the monitors wrote. “There were no discussions of the decisions made by the officer that caused her or him to be placed into a situation where the use of force was unavoidable.”
NOPD spokesman Tyler Gamble said that what may have appeared to the monitors to be rush jobs were, in fact, drafts.
“We didn’t see them as finalized reports,” he said. “It was just a matter of them needing to be able to do a review of our work, and we tried to get them a good swath of something to look at.”
Gamble said three additional investigators were added to the Force Investigation Team last month to ensure that administrative reviews proceed at the same time as, and not after, criminal investigations into officers’ use of guns — as the monitors would like and as the consent decree requires.
One of the highest-profile cases discussed in the monitors’ report was Officer Lisa Lewis’ highly disputed shooting of suspect Armond Bennett in August 2014. The NOPD failed to report the shooting for two days, and the booking counts against Bennett were eventually refused by the District Attorney’s Office.
The monitors found that the administrative investigation into the incident was “deficient.”
Although the monitors report the investigation was closed on April 22, Gamble said both administrative and criminal investigations into the shooting remain open.
The monitors did not immediately respond to a request for clarification.
“The reported tactic of the officer who approached the subject with her gun in one hand and her handcuffs in the other was not thoroughly assessed for compliance with NOPD training or safe practices,” according to the monitors. They said the report’s conclusion that there was no evidence that Lewis’ use of force was unreasonable or violated policies was “incredible.”
Long before the department’s Public Integrity Bureau began to review use-of-force incidents, the monitors said, there were problems with how officers reported physical confrontations with suspects.
Out of 80 arrestees who were injured in a sampling of 2014 cases when officers used force, only 10 had their pictures taken. All are supposed to be photographed under the 2012 consent decree.
The monitors’ analysis of a sampling of cases in which arrestees were charged with battery or assault on a police officer or with resisting arrest — just the sorts of cases where officers could be expected to use force on suspects — found that officers failed to report using force in 14 of the 35 cases where it appeared they had used it.
The monitors said a new sergeant assigned to the job in October has improved the quality of use-of-force reporting by forcing supervisors to double-check their officers’ work. They also found that a new Force Investigation Team leader has prepared a promising new administrative investigation guide.