Appeals court orders hearing for canned LPD officer

by Walter Pierce

The 3rd Circuit Court of Appeal has reversed a ruling by a Lafayette district court judge delaying an appeal hearing before the Lafayette Municipal Fire & Police Civil Service Board by a former officer fired in August of 2011.

The 3rd Circuit Court of Appeal has reversed a ruling by a Lafayette district court judge delaying an appeal hearing before the Lafayette Municipal Fire & Police Civil Service Board by a former officer fired in August of 2011.

That former officer, Uletom Hewitt, had been suspended by the Lafayette Police Department on two prior occasions - in March and August of 2011 - before being fired following a third undisclosed disciplinary infraction at the end of August 2011. Following all three disciplinary actions by the department Hewitt filed an appeal with the Civil Service Board, but by the time the board and Hewitt's attorney had completed discovery in the spring of 2013, Hewitt had joined eight other officers in filing a federal civil rights suit against the department, Chief Jim Craft and others alleging widespread corruption within the department.

LPD Chief Jim Craft

Citing the pending federal lawsuit filed in Lafayette to which Hewitt is a party - the suit is still pending - the Civil Service Board declined to hold a hearing for Hewitt's appeal, in this case for the first disciplinary action that resulted in a five-day suspension in March 2011. Hewitt took the board to state district court in Lafayette asking Judge Ed Rubin in September of last year to force the Civil Service Board to begin his appeal process even as the federal civil rights suit was pending, but Rubin sided with the Civil Service Board. Hewitt appealed that ruling to the 3rd Circuit, which reversed Rubin's decision, in effect ordering the judge to order the Civil Service Board to hold an appeal hearing for Hewitt.

Meanwhile, the federal suit to which Hewitt is a party and the events leading up to it remain a sensational chapter in Lafayette's civic history. The nine current and former officers, led by former narcotics Officer Kane Marceaux, alleged a "culture of corruption" within the LPD going all the way to the chief's office. The officers went so far as to establish a website, RealCopsVCraft, which according to a later ruling by a federal appeals panel, contained "an image of the Lafayette Police Chief, a party in this suit; excerpts of critical statements made in the media concerning the Lafayette PD Defendants; certain voice recordings of conversations between the officers and members of the Lafayette Police Department; and other accounts of the Lafayette PD defendants' alleged failings."

A federal magistrate judge characterized the website as "patently offensive on its face" and ordered it removed from the World Wide Web. As of this writing the website remains shuttered. Read more about that in this account by The Advocate.

The federal lawsuit filed by the current and former officers early June of 2012 prompted Chief Craft a week later to issue a memo to department employees and to hold a news conference to defend himself and the department. Here's the memo:

With some sense of disappointment, I am writing this letter to address recent allegations by a handful of employees who allege that under my tenure as Chief, the Lafayette Police Department has been little more than a corrupt organization manipulating crime statistics, threatening employees, and practicing retribution through the use of internal investigations.

Some of these disgruntled employees have even secretly recorded conversations with fellow officers and are now using these clandestine recordings to further malign the reputation of the Lafayette Police Department. These acts are an insult to the dedicated and hardworking officers who put their lives on the line each and every day. It is a slap in the face to our civilian support staff (especially in Records) who works to maintain accurate reports and documents mandated by local, state, and federal government.

These officers selfishly chose to involve the media in their attempts further exposing our department to embarrassment, ridicule, and unnecessary scrutiny by the public. I am disheartened by the lack of professional and objective behavior by one media outlet in particular and their sensationalism of these false allegations. Our badges and patches all say the same thing. Like it or not, we all work for the Lafayette Police Department. These actions reflect negatively on all of us, including those who chose this course of action.

I have often said that we are one of the best and most professional police agencies around. Numerous state and national requests for our policies and methods of crime-fighting attest to our outstanding reputation among both large and small agencies. I have also taken pride in the fact that we are men and women of honor and integrity. Lies, half-truths, and secret tape recordings do not become us.

Thankfully, the judicial system has and will weigh all information fairly before acting in these allegations. There is no "culture of corruption" in this department, nor is there manipulation of any crime stats (which by the way are a matter of public record). There are and always will be internal investigations relating to alleged wrong-doing, which I am required by law to conduct.

I think these tactics are shameful and selfish. They come at a time when many of our folks are engaged in a relentless effort to find missing person Mickey Shunick. The repeated futile attempts by a few disgruntled officers are designed to distort, distract, and to smear the reputations of some 320 dedicated professionals who come to work to "make a difference every day" in the lives of our citizens.

I believe that the dedication and determination of our officers and employees, even in the face of such false and public insult, will not deter us from our mission. We cannot and should not allow the self-serving attempts of a few to soil our good name and reputation.

Let me close by saying that I consider it both an honor and a privilege to lead such a professional, dedicated group of men and women. Thank you

Chief Jim Craft