Forced out over sex, drugs or child abuse, fired officers find work in other departments


December 22, 2017
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Photo by Annie Flanagan for The Washington Post

The London Lodge in New Orleans, Louisiana on November 08, 2017. A city police officer was accused of patronizing a prostitute there in 2010.

NEW ORLEANS — By the time the New Orleans Police Department fired Carey Dykes, the officer had been sued for alleged brutality, accused of having sex with a prostitute while on duty and caught sleeping in his patrol car instead of responding to a shooting.

The 13-year veteran fought to get his job back but lost.

Even so, he returned to patrol months later — working for a nearby police department.

Dykes is one of dozens of officers forced out of the New Orleans department over the past decade for misconduct who were given badges and guns by other departments, according to a Washington Post analysis of state and city employment records, police personnel files and court documents. At a time of increased scrutiny of police nationwide, the ease with which fired or forced out New Orleans officers found work at new departments underscores the broader challenge that law enforcement faces to rid itself of “bad apples.”

The New Orleans department has long been attempting to reform its ranks and shed a troubled past. In the past decade, the department has fired or otherwise pushed out at least 248 officers. Of those forced out, 53 have been hired by other police departments.

Many of those officers landed at smaller police departments in nearby parishes and colleges — some hired weeks or months after leaving New Orleans. While records show that some have had no complaints of misconduct since joining new departments, others have been fired again.

Records show that many of the 53 officers hired by other departments disclosed their troubled departures from New Orleans. About half of the 53 had been fired, and the rest resigned in lieu of being fired or quit while under investigation.

Some of the 248 officers were fired or forced out in New Orleans after abandoning their posts in 2005 when Hurricane Katrina struck the city. Others were fired or pushed out in the aftermath of a 2011 Department of Justice civil rights investigation. The federal review concluded that officers “routinely” used unnecessary force and conducted unlawful arrests, and that neither the public nor officers had faith in the department’s disciplinary process. City leaders instituted reforms demanded by Justice, adding to an exodus of officers.

About this project: This article is part of a series titled "Fired/Rehired," produced by The Washington Post, and including several done in partnership with the Investigative Reporting Workshop at American University.

Others in the series:

Police chiefs are often forced to put hundreds of officers fired for misconduct back on the streets

Philadelphia police were forced to rehire officer Cyrus Mann, who fatally shot an unarmed man in the back

How one attorney forces police chiefs to rehire the officers they fire

A text. A death. And a cop left unwanted by a city that once praised him.

 

Former New Orleans Police Superintendent Ronal Serpas said that sheriffs and other chiefs often justify rehiring officers by dismissing their problems as “political.” As a result, troubled officers remain in policing, he said.

“By the time you reach the point of terminating someone, that’s usually something that speaks to [the officer’s] ethics or ability to perform their job,” said Serpas, who led the New Orleans department from 2010 to 2014.

Louisiana is one of 44 states that require that officers be certified, or licensed. In some states, police chiefs pursue the decertification of officers they fire — to prevent them from being hired at other police departments.

But Louisiana has not decertified a single officer for misconduct in the past decade, records show. State officials said that local departments have failed to request decertifications. Local police officials said, however, that the process of decertifying an officer they no longer employ can be laborious and may not be worth the time.

Serpas said steps should be taken to make sure that officers are stripped of their state law enforcement certifications and that a national database of these officers should be created to help prevent them from returning to law enforcement.

“If you get terminated for untruthfulness or bribery or brutality, you really should not be allowed to be a police officer anywhere in the country,” Serpas said.

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Photo by Annie Flanagan for The Washington Post

Squad cars parked on top of the New Orleans Police Department in New Orleans, Louisiana on November 09, 2017.

Sleeping on duty, buying sex

Police officer Carey Dykes arrived near the French Quarter just before dawn as fists were flying and fires were burning in the street. Soon, bottles were flung in his direction.

It was Feb. 16, 1999, and Dykes was quickly joined by a dozen other officers as the Mardi Gras party descended into chaos.

By the time it was over, police had jailed nearly 60 people. In the aftermath, Dykes, other officers and the city faced two federal lawsuits from people who alleged that they had been falsely arrested and were beaten by police. In the suits, witnesses said they saw Dykes and another officer “brutally beat” a man with nightsticks.

The city settled the two cases for a combined $60,850. In 2001, Dykes and the city were sued again: A pregnant woman said she was assaulted by Dykes as he tried to arrest her and her then-husband outside a French Quarter strip club.

“That cop, Dykes, came up to me before I could get all the way up off the ground and slammed me back down on the ground with my face in the ground and kept saying, ‘Keep still. Don’t move. Don’t move,’ ” the woman, Chantal Jarrell, now 45, said in an interview.

The city and the officers generally denied the allegations, but settled her suit for $400.

Records show that during the next decade, Dykes was suspended three times for violating department policies, including failing to follow instructions and filing incomplete reports.

Then, in July 2010, a woman told police officials that an officer was paying women for sex. She told internal affairs investigators that the officer — whom she identified as Dykes from a photo lineup — spent some of his nightly shifts cruising the streets “picking up working girls.” She complained that she had sex with him but was never paid.

The woman, who was not identified in the investigative reports, said Dykes picked her up in his squad car on July 4 and took her to the London Lodge, a nearby motel.

She said that she took a shower and emerged to see Dykes naked. The two then had vaginal and oral sex without a condom, she said.

Motel records showed that Dykes rented a $45 room, checking in with his driver’s license at 2:50 a.m. — in the middle of his patrol shift.

Investigators set up a sting.

Over several days, police recorded the woman speaking with Dykes on the phone while he was on duty. In one recording, the woman said she had a bacterial infection when they allegedly had unprotected sex and told him that he might pass it on to his wife.

Dykes said he was not worried about a bacterial infection. “Only STD will affect me,” he told her.

On the sting’s fifth night, investigators watched Dykes park his squad car at the London Lodge at 3:35 a.m. Almost an hour later, a 911 call came in from nearby: Two men had wrecked a Chevy Tahoe and fled on foot armed with assault rifles.

A dispatcher radioed Dykes to respond to the call but got no answer from him.

Ten minutes after the initial 911 call, the neighborhood erupted in gunfire, prompting five additional calls to 911.

Dykes’s white marked patrol car did not move, records show. Concerned, one of the officers watching Dykes approached his police cruiser: Dykes was inside asleep. The surveillance officer snapped a photo.

At 5:15 a.m. Dykes drove off and later wrote in his activity report that he had responded to the shooting.

The internal affairs investigation found that Dykes had violated department rules 17 times, including not devoting his entire shift to his police duty, transporting a civilian in his work vehicle, dishonesty and failing to respond to a dispatcher.

Dykes initially denied many of the allegations and said he did not have intercourse with the woman. When confronted with the findings of the surveillance, he admitted to having oral sex with the woman at the motel and failing to respond to the shooting.

Three months later, in February 2011, Dykes was fired. He appealed, but an arbitrator upheld his dismissal.

When reached by phone, Dykes, 44, said of his firing: “It happened over seven years ago. I’m not worried about it.” He declined to answer questions or comment further.

Months after he was fired, Dykes applied for a police job at Delgado Community College in New Orleans, records show.

When Delgado officials made contact with New Orleans to verify Dykes’s prior employment, they were told to contact New Orleans’s public integrity division. It is unclear whether anyone from Delgado did.

On Aug. 5, 2011, the community college offered Dykes a job with its police force, hiring him for about $12,000 less than he said he had made in New Orleans.

Delgado spokesman Tony Cook said in an email that the college could not say why it hired Dykes despite his previous firing, whether the college had checked Dykes’s references or whether the officer has faced any disciplinary action since his hiring.

In July 2016, while still employed at Delgado, Dykes secured a second job at the Orleans Parish Sheriff’s Office as a reserve deputy sheriff. Orleans Parish officials declined to be interviewed. He continues to work at both departments, records show.

New Orleans Superintendent of Police Michael Harrison said he ran into Dykes while visiting the Delgado campus. Harrison, who led the sting that ousted Dykes, said it was the first time he had seen the officer in a police uniform since he was fired.

The two shook hands and exchanged a cordial smile, he said.

“He knows that I know. . . . I would just say that I would hope that he has changed,” Harrison said.

‘I could have been killed that night’

Police officials and law enforcement experts say that smaller police agencies may have less capacity to vet potential hires and that the departments are more willing to take chances on officers with troubled backgrounds because of the national shortage of officers.

“Because of the market demand for experienced police officers, many organizations are willing to overlook blemishes in a police record in order to keep their numbers up,” said Peter Scharf, a criminologist and professor in the School of Public Health at Louisiana State University.

Hiring these officers can save a department money: Officers who were fired or left amid investigations may not have to be trained or certified and will often accept lower salaries, experts noted.

Some police union officials defended the rehirings and said many officers deserve second chances because they may have been forced out of departments unfairly.

“There’s far too often where some police officers are terminated for reasons that are not just and not right,” said Eric Hessler, an attorney for the Police Association of New Orleans.

All but two of the 53 New Orleans officers who were rehired at other departments found work in Louisiana; the other two officers resurfaced in jobs at police departments in nearby Alabama.

Some of the officers have gone on to be fired again.

Jake Schnapp Jr., was one of half a dozen officers who were patrolling the French Quarter in plainclothes late on Dec. 30, 2006, when they saw Ronald Coleman walking briskly through the rain.

Coleman, a 25-year-old lawyer, had been visiting a friend who worked on Bourbon Street. He said he was heading to his car when he noticed men in Mardi Gras beads following him. Moments later, he said in an interview, the men threw him to the ground without identifying themselves as officers.

“I thought I might be getting jumped,” said Coleman, who said he was handcuffed and then punched and kicked while on the ground. “I was completely powerless.”

Coleman

Photo by Nick Otto for The Washington Post

Ronald Coleman, who now lives in Sacramento, was accosted in December 2006 by a group of police officers as he walked to his car in New Orleans. Two would be fired, and one of the two became a deputy in Plaquemines Parish.

Coleman said that when he began screaming, “I’m a lawyer,” one of the men, later identified as Schnapp, took off the handcuffs and told him that the police had been looking for a pickpocket who had robbed an elderly man. Coleman said Schnapp then escorted him to a nearby police station, promised to file a report and gave him a number to call to follow up.

Coleman said that later that night he realized the extent of his injuries — two black eyes, a bruised rib and what turned out to be a mild concussion — and went to another police station and filed a report.

That triggered an investigation by internal affairs.

Schnapp told investigators that his group of officers had been approached by a man who said he had been robbed of his wallet and who pointed down the street to Coleman as the suspect. “Grab that guy,” Schnapp said he instructed his fellow officers.

In his incident report, however, Schnapp wrote that the altercation began when Coleman slipped on the wet pavement, the officers fell on top of him and he began “kicking, screaming, and flailing his arms,” according to a local news story at the time.

Investigators concluded that Schnapp “knowingly and intentionally” failed to include in his report that the officers had punched Coleman.

In July 2007, the department fired Schnapp and a second officer. Schnapp soon secured a new job with the Plaquemines Parish Sheriff’s Office, just south of New Orleans.

After six years, Plaquemines fired Schnapp in 2013, the department’s records show.

Department officials declined to explain the firing and said it was the result of an “internal issue” and not related to his performance or to public safety.

“He had his backers and detractors,” Terry Sercovich, a Plaquemines spokesman, said of Schnapp. He said officials involved in Schnapp’s hiring have left the department.

Former Sheriff Jiff Hingle, who hired Schnapp, went on to spend nearly four years in federal prison after pleading guilty to public corruption charges. He did not respond to requests for comment. Former sheriff Lonnie Greco, during whose tenure Schnapp was fired, was voted out of office and did not respond to requests for comment.

Schnapp worked briefly as a private security contractor and in July 2013 applied to be a deputy with the St. Charles Parish Sheriff’s Office. In his application, Schnapp acknowledged both firings.

In a statement, St. Charles Parish Sheriff Greg Champagne said the department investigated Schnapp’s employment history and called his listed references.

“Further investigation regarding his terminations revealed conflicting factual findings of alleged policy violations,” Champagne said. “We also received credible information that Mr. Schnapp’s terminations may have been partially motivated by political considerations and personality conflicts instead of hard facts.”

Records show that Schnapp was reprimanded by the St. Charles Parish department in November 2016 after his superiors concluded that he had made an inappropriate comment to a colleague. He was put on probation for 90 days and sent to cultural sensitivity training. Champagne said that has been the officer’s only misstep. “He has proven to be an excellent deputy,” Champagne said.

Schnapp, 52, and the attorney who represented him after his firing in New Orleans, did not respond to requests for comment.

Coleman, who now works as a lobbyist in California, said that he moved out of Louisiana because of the beating by police. He sued the city, settling for $18,941. He said he was stunned to learn that Schnapp had been hired by another police department.

“I could have been killed that night,” Coleman said. “And to know that this officer . . . is able to go to another jurisdiction and potentially engage in that same behavior somewhere else is very problematic.”

Ten years, five departments

Noel Sanders was fired by New Orleans in 2007 when internal affairs investigators concluded that he had failed to seek medical attention after his 4-year-old son was burned by scalding bath water.

According to accounts in court and city records, the officer was at work when, after 10 p.m. on May 1, 2001, his fiancee ordered the boy to draw his own bath. Moments later she heard a splash. Nearly a minute passed before she scooped his pink body from the water.

The next day, Sanders noticed that his son’s skin was peeling, records show. Investigators would later note that the boy’s bedding appeared to be stained with blood. Sanders spoke to his own mother and to the commander of the police department’s child abuse section about the injuries. Sanders’s mother advised him to seek medical treatment for the child, but he did not. She later called an ambulance, records show.

The boy was flown to a Texas hospital “at substantial risk of death” with second- and third-degree burns over half his body, records show. Sanders and his fiancee were arrested and each charged with cruelty to a juvenile, a felony.

His fiancee was convicted and sentenced to five years in prison. In 2007, prosecutors dropped the charges against Sanders because his son was not present to testify, records show. He successfully petitioned to have the case expunged from the court records.

The New Orleans Police Department completed its internal investigation and fired Sanders because his actions had violated several policies and put his son’s life in jeopardy, records show. An appeals court that upheld his firing said Sanders’s failure to summon medical help “casts doubt on his ability to properly handle emergency situations.”

“I really don’t want to talk about that situation,” Sanders, 47, said when reached by The Post. “That’s old news for me, and I’ve gone on with my life now.”

In 2008, Sanders was hired as an officer at Delgado Community College, where he had once studied criminal justice. The college hired him, citing a “current shortage of police officers,” according to an internal memo.

But his time there lasted less than a year: Sanders was fired in January 2009 for “failing to meet established standards of performance,” according to a department memorandum.

By August, Sanders was hired by the Orleans Parish Sheriff’s Office as a deputy assigned to the jail, employment records show. He was again fired after less than a year on the job, this time for “job abandonment” after he called in sick and failed to show up for any of his later shifts, records show. The sheriff’s office declined to comment.

Sanders’s next stop was as a police officer working for Louisiana State University, where he was hired in October 2011. He trained and supervised officers on the health sciences campus in New Orleans, employment records show. He remained there until April 2017, when he was hired at a fifth police department, the Orleans Levee District Police.

That hiring prompted a review by the Metropolitan Crime Commission, a nonprofit group that works with local police and federal authorities to identify and combat public corruption.

In a letter last month, the commission said that it had received multiple complaints that the Orleans Levee District Police had hired officers with “questionable backgrounds,” including Sanders.

The commission accused Orleans Levee police of hiring Sanders despite “apparent red flags” and alleged that he lied on his job application. The commission said he claimed to have been fired once, although he had been fired from three departments. The commission requested that Orleans Levee police review Sanders’s hiring to see whether it violated any of that department’s policies.

In the meantime, Sanders remains with the department.

“At this time, based on what we know of officer Sanders’s performance to date, since March 1, which has been very good, I do not anticipate doing anything different with officer Sanders,” Derek Boese, an official with the Flood Protection Authority, which oversees the Orleans Levee department, told The Post.

Hirings called into question

Delgado Community College has hired more of the castoffs from New Orleans in the past decade than any other police department. In recent years, the small agency, charged with protecting the state’s largest community college, has primarily hired former New Orleans police officers — including seven who were fired or pushed out under investigation.

“There may be an occasion when someone who has been terminated from another department would be able to meet hiring qualifications for a position with Delgado Campus Police,” said Cook, the Delgado spokesman.

Most of the seven officers were hired by Ronald T. Doucette Sr. when he was Delgado police chief. Doucette is a former New Orleans police officer who in 27 years with the department worked his way up the ranks, even serving for a time as an assistant superintendent.

In 2003, he left New Orleans to become the chief at Delgado, where he had once been a student, to run the force of 24 armed officers who patrol the campus in marked cars and golf carts.

During his 11 years at Delgado, Doucette hired five officers who had been forced out of New Orleans, including Carey Dykes and Noel Sanders.

In an interview, Doucette, 67, said that he had hired former New Orleans officers in an effort to “improve the quality of the officers at the college.” He said those hires included officers who had been fired, because they deserved a second chance.

“You can’t keep punishing people for the same mistake,” Doucette said.

Of Sanders, Doucette said he was aware of the child abuse allegations against him. He said he fired Sanders because of an incident on campus, which Doucette declined to discuss. “I made mistakes,” Doucette said of Sanders’s hiring.

Doucette did not return a subsequent call seeking comment about Dykes.

Another officer Doucette hired was his nephew Eric P. Doucette Sr., who was fired by New Orleans police in 2005 for neglect of duty, records show. The chief said he followed ethics guidelines and did not directly supervise his nephew. Eric Doucette, 59, did not respond to requests for comment.

When Chief Doucette resigned from Delgado in 2014, college officials replaced him with another former New Orleans police officer: Julie Lea, a former lieutenant in internal affairs.

Lea had resigned from New Orleans while under investigation for “neglect of duty” for failing to “properly supervise subordinates,” according to police records.

In preparation of a federal audit that was part of the ongoing Justice Department investigation, Lea was told to complete pending internal affairs cases, records show. Investigators said Lea, however, allowed one of her employees to retire with 18 cases pending. The department later sustained the administrative violations against Lea.

Lea, 44, told The Post that she was “never notified of an investigation.” By the time New Orleans internal affairs upheld the charges against her, she had been sworn in as chief at Delgado. Delgado officials said they were unaware that she was under investigation when she was hired.

One of Lea’s hires at Delgado was fired New Orleans officer Mario Cole, who lost his job in 2013 after 11 years with the department when he tested positive for opiates during a random drug test. Through Delgado police, Cole, 38, declined to comment.

“I’m sure I looked into it and found out what it was,” Lea said when asked whether she knew of Cole’s prior misconduct when she hired him in 2016. “But I don’t remember.”

In January 2017, after a little more than a year as Delgado’s chief, Lea was fired.

An internal investigation by the college concluded that she had misused state funds and compromised student safety by ordering two of her officers to guard the homes of relatives of a deceased police chief during his funeral.

“Most chiefs would never get fired for something like that,” Lea said.

She said that after she was fired, she applied for another job as a police chief but was not hired. She now runs a nonprofit entity that she founded to organize Mardi Gras parades and events.

In August, Delgado replaced Lea with yet another former New Orleans officer: Eddie Compass III.

Compass spent 26 years with New Orleans Police Department, ascending to superintendent. He resigned in 2005 amid widespread criticism of the department’s response to Hurricane Katrina.

In an interview, Compass, 59, said that all of Delgado’s hiring of New Orleans officers with troubled records predated his arrival. He said he has not had any problems with the officers but criticized the department’s prior hiring practices. He said Delgado will no longer hire officers who have been forced out of other departments.

“They never should have been hired,” he said. “But that’s something I can’t do anything about.”

Delgado’s police department has three openings.

Alice Crites contributed to this report.

About this story: This article was produced in partnership with the Investigative Reporting Workshop at American University. Students Erin Logan, Kristen Griffith, Daniel Teehan, Jerrel Floyd and Catherine York contributed to this report.


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