FOP Legal Plan and NOPD Discipline Part 2 – A Sustained Disposition

In my previous post about the FOP Legal Plan and the NOPD disciplinary system, I reviewed some general things about disciplinary investigations and the FOP’s Legal Defense Plan. I discussed notice, the FOP’s Salary Reimbursement Option, Extension Requests, and a few other things. This time, I am going to assume that the investigation has been completed – you and your FOP attorney have made a statement to the investigator and the investigator is ready to recommend a disposition.

The NOPD requires that the investigator issue NOPD Form 308 to the accused officer as the last step in the investigation before sending the case up the chain of command for review. NOPD Form 308 bears the title Notice to Accused Law Enforcement Officer Under Investigation of Completed Investigation. While the title of this form has changed a number of times over the years, the purpose has not. As I mentioned in the prior post, La. R.S. 40:2531(b)(7) requires that an investigation be completed within 60 days (120 days max). The statute says that the investigation will be considered complete upon notice to the law enforcement officer under investigation of a not sustained or unfounded disposition or notice of a pre-disciplinary hearing. NOPD Form 308 purports to cover all of these circumstances, thereby marking the end of the investigation. The investigator completes this form without approvals up the chain of command. Therefore, the disposition(s) can change.

NOPD Form 308 includes dates for a Pre-Disposition Conference and a Pre-Disciplinary Hearing, as well as each charge that was alleged and the disposition recommended by the investigator for that charge. Since the investigator does not know who is going to hold either of these hearings or the content of the hearing officer’s calendar, these dates are simply made up. As of this date, I have not seen a pre-disposition conference or a pre-disciplinary hearing held on the dates found on NOPD Form 308.

If the disposition on all charges is Not Sustained, Unfounded, or Exonerated (or any combination thereof), there will not be any type of hearing to come. I have had a number of questions in that regard lately. The NOPD does not conduct a pre-disposition conference or a pre-disciplinary hearing on any case with no sustained allegations.

If there is an allegation with a sustained disposition, then there will be at least one, and maybe two, hearings that follow. Depending on who conducted the investigation, the accused officer will receive either a Notice of Pre-Disposition Conference or a Notice of Pre-Disciplinary Hearing, or both.

If someone assigned to PIB conducted the administrative investigation and the potential penalty is not severe, then PIB will conduct the Pre-Disposition Conference and the Bureau to which the accused officer is assigned will conduct the Pre-Disciplinary Hearing. In that case, the accused officer will be issued a Notice of Pre-Disposition Conference by PIB at least 5 days prior to the hearing. If at the conclusion of the Pre-Disposition Conference there are still sustained allegations, then the accused officer will receive a Notice of Pre-Disciplinary Hearing a few weeks after the Pre-Disposition Conference either from the Division where the accused officer is assigned.

If the investigation is conducted by someone from the accused officer’s Bureau (usually the same Division) and the potential penalty is not severe, then the Pre-Disposition Conference and the Pre-Disciplinary Hearing will be conducted by the accused officer’s commander. These two hearings will be conducted together.

If the potential penalty for any sustained violation is severe (usually a 30-day suspension or greater), then the Pre-Disposition Conference and the Pre-Disciplinary Hearing are conducted together by a Superintendent’s Disciplinary Committee. A Superintendent’s Disciplinary Committee is chaired by the accused officer’s Bureau Chief and consists of the accused officer’s Bureau Chief and two (2) other Bureau Chiefs.

Pre-Disposition Conference

The purpose of a Pre-Disposition Conference is to finalize the investigator’s recommended disposition. The accused officer should be given notice of what alleged violations were sustained and why they were sustained. This notice would be found on the Notice of Pre-Disposition Conference. It is not on NOPD Form 308. The purpose of this hearing is to give the accused officer an opportunity to respond to the allegations sustained against him or her and, hopefully, eliminate any mistaken sustained allegations. At this hearing, the accused officer has the chance to explain why the sustained charges should not have been sustained.

It is important to note that the accused officer has the option of waiving the Pre-Disposition Conference. Commonly, the Notice of Pre-Disposition Conference is emailed along with a form which can be used to waive the Notice of Pre-Disposition Conference. If the accused officer waives the Pre-Disposition Conference, then all of the charges that were recommended sustained by the investigator will remain sustained. DO NOT WAIVE THIS PRE-DISPOSITION CONFERENCE WITHOUT CONFERRING WITH COUNSEL. I have seen where accused officers have inadvertently waived the Pre-Disposition Conference. Make sure you read what you are signing before signing.

Pre-Disciplinary Hearing

If, at the conclusion of the Pre-Disposition Conference, there are still sustained violations, the accused officer will have to attend a Pre-Disciplinary Hearing. The purpose of the Pre-Disciplinary Hearing is to give the accused officer the opportunity to give any mitigating factors and for the accused officer’s commander to recommend a penalty to the Superintendent. The disposition of the alleged violations cannot be changed at this hearing. The penalty is derived from the penalty matrix found in NOPD Chapter 26.2.1, which contains a presumptive penalty, a penalty with mitigating factors, and a penalty with aggravating factors. The penalty recommended by the accused officer’s commander can only be implemented by the Superintendent and is occasionally (not too often) altered by someone up the chain of command.

Superintendent’s Disciplinary Committee

If the potential penalty includes a suspension in excess of 30 days, demotion, or dismissal (termination), then the hearings are conducted together by a Disciplinary Committee. A Superintendent’s Disciplinary Committee is chaired by the accused officer’s Bureau Chief. Two other Bureau Chiefs will fill out the three-member committee. At that hearing the accused officer is given the opportunity to explain why the charges should not be sustained, as well as the opportunity to offer mitigating factors that might influence the disposition or penalty. It is possible for an allegation which has relatively minor potential penalties to be heard via Superintendent’s Disciplinary Committee if there is another accused officer with potentially severe penalties.

Disciplinary Letters

The Louisiana Constitution requires that any disciplinary action taken against a permanent, classified civil service employee be with “cause expressed in writing.” As such, the disciplinary process is not completed until either the Superintendent signs off on dispositions of Not Sustained, Exonerated or Unfounded, or the accused officer is issued a disciplinary letter from the Superintendent. If the accused officer is dismissed (terminated), then the accused officer will be given the disciplinary letter the same day. If there is any other penalty assessed other than termination, then the accused officer will be required to sign for a disciplinary letter some time later. It could be 6 months later or longer. The disciplinary letter will indicate when the imposed discipline must be served. Since the disciplinary letter constitutes the end of the disciplinary process, any appeals to the Civil Service Commission must follow issuance of the letter. An accused officer has 30 days from the date typed on top of the disciplinary letter to file an appeal. Since the Civil Service Commission has original and sole jurisdiction over these matters, disciplinary actions taken in accordance with Civil Service Rule IX can only be appealed to the Civil Service Commission. The disciplinary letter further serves to limit any subsequent proceedings to the grounds specified in the letter.

As you can see, there is a lot to the disciplinary process. For FOP members who do not deal with the disciplinary process every day, it can be a lot to take in. Most officers simply aren’t familiar with the ins and outs of the process because they don’t often have to interact with it. In addition, it has been my experience that most officers who are quick to explain how the system works provide as much misinformation as they do quality information. Fortunately, the FOP provides attorneys to help its members navigate the tricky waters of the disciplinary process. Pick up the phone and call. That’s all you have to do and I will be more than happy to help.

Next time… Critical Incidents and Criminal Investigations.

 

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The FOP Legal Defense Plan and NOPD Discipline

The FOP Legal Defense Plan provides legal representation to its members for any criminal or civil action resulting from the performance of your duty as a law enforcement officer. The FOP Legal Plan also provides representation for any administrative investigation. Administrative investigations include disciplinary investigations, Accident Review Board cases, or Rule IX Hearings. In addition, the administrative coverage includes appeals to the Civil Service Commission, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeal, or the Louisiana Supreme Court, if needed.

The NOPD keeps hiring new officers and running academies on a regular basis. This means that there are always new officers coming out of the Academy who have not had any experience with the NOPD’s disciplinary system. I usually have the opportunity to introduce myself to soon-to-be Academy graduates at the Academy. I have a limited amount of time to introduce myself and explain a few things about the Legal Plan. This is my opportunity to explain a little more in depth. As always, you are welcome to call me if you have any questions.

The Consent Decree entered into by the City of New Orleans and the Department of Justice contains 13 pages that apply to disciplinary investigations. The one thing that has impacted the disciplinary system the most is the requirement that the NOPD investigate all complaints based on the allegation as opposed to the anticipated outcome. The NOPD has interpreted this to mean that they are going to investigate any complaint, regardless of its facial merit. The Consent Decree also formalized the NOPD policy to accept all complaints, whether they are in person, anonymous, from third parties, via email, etc. I had one case where someone in Australia didn’t think that an officer treated someone right based on an episode of a television show he saw. Finally, the Consent Decree limits the cases that can be disposed of as NIM (No Investigation Merited).

The Consent Decree initially led to an increase in the number of disciplinary investigations. However, with the use of body worn cameras, and tools such as Non-Disciplinary Counseling, Negotiated Settlement, and Mediation, the number of disciplinary investigations looks to have topped off and dropped a little the past few years. That being said, there are still more than 700 PIB Control numbers used every year.

First and foremost, I have a lot of people call and say “I hate to bother you with something this stupid…” Nothing is that stupid. Stupid things are stupid because 1) someone did something stupid and there is no explaining it away, or 2) someone made an allegation that is so ridiculous that you can’t possibly imagine it being sustained.

In the first case, where someone does something stupid – made a simple mistake or error – and there is nothing that can explain it away, there is certainly good reason to call. The FOP offers a benefit known as the Salary Reimbursement Option. No other organization offers anything like it. Here is how it works:

Salary Reimbursement Option (SRO)

The FOP Legal Defense Plan provides legal representation to its members so that they can defend themselves from accusations that constitute a violation of rules and regulations. This representation includes appeals, if necessary. However, sometimes you are accused of something that you did. For example, maybe it was one of those days and by the time the tenth person has lied to your face, you had enough and uttered a string of profanities. This string of profanities was recorded on your body worn camera. Now, you are accused of violating the NOPD’s rule on Courtesy (Rule 2, Paragraph 2). The complaint will be sustained.

Your FOP attorney will argue on your behalf. If there is a way out, we will explore that. If there is no way out, then we will argue for the least possible penalty. This is when the Salary Reimbursement Option comes into play.

IF you are represented by an FOP attorney and the penalty involves a suspension, you and your FOP attorney will have the opportunity to discuss your options moving forward. You probably have an option to appeal. However, IF you are represented by and FOP attorney AND you and your attorney agree that your chances of success on appeal are slim, then the FOP will reimburse you for any suspension days at $150/day for up to 5 days. That’s right – if you get a suspension for something that you did and you are not going to prevail on appeal, you can get a check for $150 per suspension day from the FOP in lieu of appeal. In short, instead of wasting money appealing a suspension you are not going to win, you have the option of cutting your losses and, hopefully, getting back to even. YOU MUST BE REPRESENTED BY AN FOP ATTORNEY DURING THE DISCIPLINARY INVESTIGATION TO BE ELIGIBLE FOR THE SALARY REIMBURSEMENT OPTION. You can only be represented by an FOP attorney for a disciplinary investigation if you pick up the phone and call.

If you aren’t calling because the allegation is stupid and there is no possible way it could be sustained, you should know that plenty of stupid allegations have led to sustained violations. Additionally, it keeps your options open for the Salary Reimbursement Options.

Do they need to notify you of a pending complaint?

No. The NOPD is not required to notify you that you are the subject of a complaint. Some investigators do notify the accused officers.

Many people find out about pending investigations when they receive a notice from the Civil Service Department of an upcoming hearing. The letter states that the Department has request an extension of time in pursuant to Civil Service Rule IX, Sec. 1.4. If you get one of those notices, then you are an accused officer in a formal disciplinary investigation.

Extension Request Hearings

The Louisiana Police Officer Bill of Rights, La. R.S. 40:2531(b)(7), provides that administrative disciplinary investigations have to be completed within 60 days. It also gives investigators the option of requesting up to another 60 days, for a maximum of 120 days to complete the investigation. The investigator needs to show good cause for the extra time.Unfortunately, just about any excuse serves as cause for the extension. The letter says that you have to attend. However, if you call me, I can handle that hearing for you. These hearings can be good opportunities to learn some information. You can also agree to the extension. There are times when agreeing to the extension may be in your best interest.

There are many other ins and outs to the disciplinary system. There are statements, disposition notices (NOPD Form 308), Pre-Dispositions Conference Hearing Notices, Pre-Disciplinary Hearing Notices, Pre-Dispositions Conferences, Pre-Disciplinary Hearings, Penalty Matrices, Disciplinary Letters, Civil Service appeals, other appeals, etc. I will cover those in the next post.