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Advocate file photo by MATTHEW HINTON-- Orleans Parish Sheriff Marlin Gusman waits for buses to transport prisoners to the new $150 million jail built in part with FEMA money in New Orleans, La. on Sept. 14, 2015.

An Orleans Parish Sheriff’s Office firearms instructor has requested whistleblower status with the state Ethics Board after alleging fraud in the New Orleans jail's training division.

The five-year veteran claims that other instructors told jail deputies to sign forms incorrectly claiming they had gone through the training necessary to receive $500 a month in extra state pay, potentially defrauding the state of tens of thousands of dollars by falsifying public records.

A top official at the Sheriff’s Office said the allegations are being investigated — but the instructor told the Ethics Board he believes the investigation is being twisted around to focus on him.

The instructor, Paul Feyerabend, has also notified the Louisiana Commission on Law Enforcement.

While the Sheriff’s Office has opened an investigation of its own, it’s not clear whether another agency will step in to independently investigate the instructor’s claims. But if they are substantiated, they could represent a serious blow to an agency that has desperately sought to beef up its ranks and its employees’ pay in the face of a staffing shortage.

Top brass at the Sheriff’s Office have made a frantic effort to hire and train new deputies while holding onto old ones. In 2018, the jail hired 126 new employees — and lost 201.

While the jail says it has improved its retention rate this year, deputies continue to leave.

The Sheriff’s Office also fired 16 employees for misconduct in the first four months of 2019, according to records obtained by The New Orleans Advocate.

Now, Paul Feyerabend, a firearms instructor who’s been at the agency since 2014, has brought an allegation against his fellow trainers. The longtime lawman said in a written complaint that other employees in the division decided to cut corners and falsify documents when they were up against a deadline in December.

He said a significant number of deputies at the jail had not completed their annual in-service training last year, jeopardizing their ability to receive $500 a month in state supplemental pay. The pay, which is designed to prop up sheriffs’ budgets around the state, depends on deputies being certified by the state Council on Peace Officer Standards and Training.

The Sheriff’s Office has made POST-certifying its deputies a top priority to improve employee pay.

Feyerabend claims six instructors — a majority of the training division's staff — falsified training records showing that deputies had completed their yearly training.

His complaint does not allege that the jail deputies committed misconduct. He said some of the deputies said instructors told them they were signing roll sheets for classes they had already attended.

Feyerabend said that after he went through the proper channels to report the misconduct, his boss in the training division retaliated against him by ordering him transferred to the jail itself, a much less desirable posting.

He also claimed that while the Sheriff’s Office opened an investigation, he now seemed to be its focus rather than the instructors he accused of misconduct.

In his letter to the Ethics Board, Feyerabend described that move as “business as usual in the (Sheriff's Office) culture of abuse.”

“Based on the nature of my complaints (both retaliation and felony crimes), it seems as if the department takes neither matter seriously, and that they are prepared to take action to obstruct the truth from being told,” he added.

However, the independent compliance director at the jail, Darnley Hodge Sr., said an investigation into Feyerabend’s complaint is ongoing. He declined to comment further.

Emails attached to Feyerabend’s letter suggest his complaint about training records was not his first. Earlier, he was involved in a tiff with another instructor over the proper firing stance at the shooting range.

A Louisiana Commission on Law Enforcement official, Bob Wertz, confirmed that the commission received a complaint about the Sheriff's Office's training division. Wertz said the commission, which oversees POST certification, told the complainant to take his concerns to the Orleans Parish District Attorney’s Office, since the commission has no law enforcement powers on its own.

If confirmed, however, the allegations could jeopardize the ability of the Sheriff’s Office to run its own training program.

The training instructors accused in Feyerabend’s letter to the Ethics Board either could not be reached or did not respond to requests for comment.


Follow Matt Sledge on Twitter, @mgsledge.