Legitimacy of 27 Crowley police officers questioned

by Patrick Flanagan

Questionable hiring practices could mean close to 30 officers of the Crowley Police Department have been wearing the badge illegitimately since around 2008.

Questionable hiring practices could mean close to 30 officers of the Crowley Police Department have been wearing the badge illegitimately since around 2008.

The allegations have hit the Crowley PD — as well as the mayor’s office and the city council — from two sides.

The first came in the form of a Dec. 3 letter from Lafayette attorney Barry Sallinger to our soon-to-be former DA Mike Harson. (Sallinger's letter is posted in full at the bottom of this page.)

According to Sallinger, the department’s issues run deep, as he traces the trend of illegal hiring by Police Chief KP Gibson back to at least 2008. And Gibson’s not alone in allegedly breaking the law. He’s also joined, Sallinger alleges, by Crowley Mayor Greg Jones and the City Council, as both attempted to remedy the issue earlier this year, while also trying to cover their tracks in the process.

Crowley Police Chief KP Gibson

In the letter to Harson, Sallinger writes:

I have learned that the Crowley Chief of Police KP Gibson, Mayor Greg Jones, and/or the Crowley City Council have been operating in violation of Louisiana law since approximately 2008 in connection with the appointment, promotion, discipline and dismissal of Crowley Police Department personnel ...

Gibson has been unilaterally undertaking the described activities without the approval and adoption of Mayor Jones and/or the City Council. [W]hile Gibson was certainly authorized to make provisional appointments to immediately fill vacancies, any such provisional appointments needed to have been approved by the mayor and deliberated by the City Council ...

[B]ased on City Attorney Tom Regan’s response to a Public Records Request by Theresa Richard dated October 6, 2014, they have had actual knowledge since that date. Interestingly, the ability of the Crowley chief of police to unilaterally appoint, promote, discipline, and dismiss police personnel without mayoral/council approval was statutorily removed in the year 2000, nearly 15 years ago!

The attempt to fix the issue chief’s hiring issue came nearly two months ago at the council’s Oct. 14 meeting, and according to Sallinger, here’s how they attempted to hide the record of what they’d done at that meeting:

[T]he minutes of the meeting do not appear anywhere on the City of Crowley website even though minutes of every monthly meeting in 2014 from January through November do appear.

This is obviously not a coincidence. It is a clear effort to hide the after-the-fact and underhanded efforts to cover the former misdeeds with the veneer of council approval.

We were able to find a copy of what purports to be minutes in which the Council attempts to ratify employment and promotion of “officers” after the fact.

Obviously the mayor and council do not have authority to make the hiring process legitimate through retroactive efforts. These actions also fail to comport with the mandate of law as there was no prior notice to the public of the nature of the activity to occur.”

While the actions of the council and mayor are certainly questionable — likely constituting violations of several state laws, including the Open Meetings Law and the Lawrason Act, for starters — there’s an even bigger issue at hand according to Sallinger: That 27 of the city’s police officers are not legitimate police, and that any arrest or investigation handled by one of these officers now requires re-examination by the DA’s office.

Making matters more complicated, is that 123 officers were promoted in rank by Chief Gibson without approval of the council and mayor, according to public records released by Crowley City Attorney Thomas Regan. Those records also show that Gibson fired eight officers and disciplined another 22 without notifying the mayor and council, which prompted the Oct. 14 move to retroactively approve a whopping 150 of the department’s new hires and promotions, some dating back as far as two decades ago. Attached to Sallinger’s letter is a 2012 attorney general opinion showing the move by the council and mayor to retroactively approve all of Gibson’s hirings is also problematic as it explicitly states “certification cannot be made retroactively.”

And it didn’t take long after Sallinger’s Dec. 3 letter for the other shoe to fall on Gibson, as a lawsuit was filed Friday against the chief and two officers.

The suit was filed in federal court by Lafayette attorney L. Clayton Burgess on behalf of his client Theresa Richard.

Last year, Richard was arrested by the Crowley PD on two separate occasions for video recording officers on the job (this is wrong on a whole other level). Of course, the charges against Richard were unprosecutable and both cases were dropped.

With the two bogus arrests as ammunition, Richard’s lawsuit claims she was falsely arrested by the two officers because both were hired illegally by the chief. The suit calls for a jury trial, and alleges that Richard is owed monetary damages for the mental anguish she endured from her “false arrest, malicious prosecution and false imprisonment.”

In a Monday afternoon interview with The Advocate, Richard’s attorney, L. Clayton Burgess raises the same argument laid out in Sallinger’s recent letter to the DA, saying, “One of the reasons she was falsely arrested — besides that she can take pictures in public places — is because they were not police officers to begin with.”

The officers named in Richard’s suit include Lt. Scott Fogleman and officer Skeat Thibodeaux.

As reported by the Advocate, here’s more on those two officers:

Lt. Scott Fogleman arrested Richard on Dec. 1, 2013, for “remaining after being forbidden” as she recorded video from within the Police Department’s lobby.

Officer Skeat Thibodeaux arrested her on May 28 for interfering with a law enforcement investigation and public intimidation while recording her neighbor’s interaction with a police officer.

Fogleman moved up the ranks from recruit to lieutenant without board approval in a string of promotions from April 2007 to June 2011. His first two promotions, from recruit to probational officer to permanent officer, were awarded without a record from the Crowley Fire and Police Civil Service Board on file, which is required.

Thibodeaux was hired in July 2013, also without a civil service record on file and without the aldermen’s approval. He was promoted to probational police officer in March, again without approval.

The Crowley Board of Aldermen is required by state law to approve hirings, firings, promotions and disciplinary actions for all employees within the Police Department ... Within the lawsuit, [attorney L. Clayton] Burgess emphasizes that neither Fogleman nor Thibodeaux were properly commissioned officers at the time of the arrests.

With one lawsuit already on the books, it’ll be interesting to see how this plays out, not only in terms of false arrest lawsuits, but also from Mike Harson. Considering Harson’s out come January, we’re guessing this matter will likely have to wait for the arrival of Keith Stutes when he takes over as DA next month.