No Win Situations in New Orleans

Save the below video for later. As you can see, the video is marked as age restricted and can only be viewed on YouTube where you can assert that you are old enough to watch. The video is a news report by WWL Investigative Reporter Mike Perlstein. You have probably already seen it. If you haven’t seen it, be sure to watch it.

I pride myself on staying in touch with the rank and file officers of the New Orleans Police Department. I talk to officers every single day in one way or another. 90% of NOPD officers are members of the Fraternal Order of Police. So, I know that I will be addressing FOP members, no matter who I am speaking to.

Recently, I happened to be at a district station at roll call time. As I stated above, I try to talk to officers at every opportunity. Since roll call was just getting started, I joined the group of officers getting ready to start their tour of duty. As usual, I popped in, made sure everyone knew who I was, and asked if there was anything in particular they wanted to talk about. That particular day, they were concerned about recent revisions to the NOPD policy on searches and seizures. I bring this up as a good example of the type of “no win situation” I referred to in Mike Perlstein’s story.

In particular, officers were worried about the addition of paragraph 58 of Chapter 1.2.4 on Search and Seizure. This addition is found in the section addressing strip searches. One of the officers had recently attended in service training and had been told that the new policy makes any search that touches the skin of the person searched a strip search. Strip searches are a no-win situation at NOPD.

First, I would refer to the definition of Strip Search found in the policy. A Strip Search is defined as “any search of a person that includes the remove all or rearrangement of some or all clothing to permit visual inspection of the exterior of the suspect’s groin/genital area, buttocks, female breasts, or undergarments covering these areas.” The intent to conduct a visual inspection seems to be a necessary element of a strip search, but my personal experience is that no visual inspection is necessary in any form, Searches where officers have intentionally avoided any possibility of a visual inspection have been declared strip searches.

Paragraph 62 of the policy outlines the steps that officers have to take in order to conduct a strip search. As you can see, there are numerous steps that would be time consuming. That is fine because strip searches are rare and officers should have to dot every i and cross every t when conducting a strip search. One way or another, conducting strip searches regularly is not practical or necessary. Paragraph 58 of the policy potentially changes all that.

Searches are a daily occurrence for police officers. Policy requires that every arrested subject be searched. Every time someone rides in a police car, they must be searched before they are put in the car. On June 20, 20215, Officer Daryle Holloway was killed in the line of duty by an arrested subject who had managed to get a gun into the back of the police car. In spite of being handcuffed behind his back, Officer Holloway’s assailant managed to shoot and kill him. Searching arrested subjects is serious business that is absolutely necessary for everyone’s safety. Paragraph 58 places all of that in jeopardy.

Under the section heading of Strip Search, paragraph 58 states that “Unless the requirements for a strip search outlined below are met (paragraph 62), officer may not: (a) reach inside outer clothing and touch skin or underwear, especially in the groin, genital, and buttock/anal region; (b) manipulate items inside outer clothing which may be in direct contact with skin especially in the groin, genital, and buttock/anal region to recover an item or move them into open view; or (c) require someone to remove or rearrange some or all clothing to permit visual inspection of a person’s groin/genital area, buttocks, female breasts, or undergarments covering those areas.”

First, I think the policy already covered part c of paragraph 58. The other two parts, a and b above, make routine searches against policy. These are the types of searches that officers conduct every day. The searches that are required by policy. There is simply no way that officers will be able to comply with the requirements of paragraph 62 every time they have to conduct a search subsequent to arrest before placing an arrested subject in a car for transport. Sometimes arrested subjects have to be placed in the car more than once. For example, if an arrested subject has to be taken to the hospital before going to the lock up, that arrested subject would have to be searched before the trip to the hospital and then again before the trip to the lockup. The waistband is one of the first places officers are taught to search. That however would require officers to “reach inside outer clothing and touch skin or underwear…” So, to conduct routine searches before placing an arrested subject in the rear of a police car, officers have to (1) obtain written authorization from his or her supervisor; (2) be properly trained in strip searches; (3) have and use personal protective equipment; (4) perform the search under conditions that provide privacy from all but those authorized to conduct the search – wait, what? The arrested subject has to be transported to a private area before being able to conduct the search that allows them to be transported in a police car? If that isn’t a no-win situation, I don’t know what one is.

Of course, the policy won’t be enforced unless there is some other reason to enforce it. If there is a complaint or someone happens to watch the body worn video, then it will become an issue. Otherwise, officers will have to continue conducting searches. If they stop conducting searches, officers will get hurt. I will again refer to Officer Holloway. It will happen again.

At the roll call I attended, I told officers to do what they had to do to get home safely at the end of the day. Officers should not have to wonder whether or not they can do something that is designed to protect them. The changes to this policy create more confusion and uncertainty. The searches described in paragraph 58 do not necessarily meet the definition of a strip search. However, they are found in the strip search section. When do these instructions apply? Beats me. What I do know is that the number 1 rule is to make it home safely. Make it home safely. If you get dinged for making it home safely, I will be there with you to fight the good fight. The FOP will also be there with you to fight the good fight.

Police Reform Legislation

Legislators on the State and Federal levels clearly have qualified immunity in their crosshairs. Click here for info on Federal legislation from National FOP President Pat Yoes. There are other things the reformers are gunning for, but weakening qualified immunity for law enforcement officers seems to be a major goal. It is important to recognize that the “reforms” to qualified immunity will still apply to all other public officers as it has always been. In other words, the Legislators proposing and voting on this legislation will still be able to benefit from from qualified immunity, as will all other public officers exercising the discretionary functions of their office.

I would like to start by saying that Legislators are gunning for the wrong thing. Qualified immunity only relates to civil lawsuits alleging Constitutional violations. Qualified immunity does not apply to criminal matters.

In Louisiana, lawmakers have proposed that qualified immunity would not be available to law enforcement officers for any wrongful death or injury resulting from a use of force. In those cases, the trier of fact would have to decide if the use of force leading to the lawsuit was unreasonable. If the judge decides it is unreasonable, then the lawsuit would be allowed to continue.

Contrast that with the current way qualified immunity is applied. There is a two-prong test to determine if a public officer is entitled to qualified immunity: 1) Did the public officer’s actions actually constitute a violation of the plaintiff’s Constitutional rights? 2) Was the public officer on notice that his actions constituted a violation of someone’s Constitutional rights? If the answer to both of those questions is yes, then qualified immunity does not apply. If the answer to either of those questions is no, then the lawsuit will be dismissed as to that public officer.

From the standpoint of law enforcement officers, the current application of qualified immunity serves to protect them from civil lawsuits in a profession that is dangerous and often leads to tense, rapidly evolving circumstances where the lives of law enforcement officers and civilians are in danger. A Tulane University Police Officer and Deputy Constable, Martinus Mitchum, was killed on February 26. 2021 when he intervened in a dispute over wearing a mask at a basketball game. Let that sink in. The shooter wanted to be allowed in the gym during a basketball game and was refused entry because he was not wearing a mask. When the interaction became contentious, Officer Mitchum stepped in to de-escalate the situation. In spite of Officer Mitchum’s efforts, the individual was so interested in not wearing a mask at the basketball game that he pulled a gun and shot and killed Officer Mitchum. It is a dangerous profession.

Other reform legislation includes bans in choke holds, bans on no-knock warrant service, and restrictions on the time of day warrants can be served. I don’t object to those efforts except to say that when someone’s life is in legitimate peril, all options should be on the table. Actually, this legislative efforts are much more reasonable than attacks on qualified immunity.

With regard to qualified immunity, I will point out that I am unaware of any insurance product that would provide liability insurance for law enforcement officers. Elimination of qualified immunity, even under restricted circumstances, would expose law enforcement officers to the same type of civil exposure that doctors are exposed to. As we all know, one reason we pay so much to see the doctor is because the doctor has to pay expensive insurance premiums. The problem is that I am unaware of any insurance product available to law enforcement officers and law enforcement salaries have historically been low.

Without qualified immunity, I think I would have to question the sanity of anyone choosing to work in law enforcement – at least a law enforcement agency without qualified immunity. In his monthly podcast, noted public safety attorney Will Aitchison said that taking a law enforcement job without qualified immunity should be the equivalent of failing the psych exam.

Legislators should be focusing on banning chokeholds. NOPD has banned chokeholds for years and it has had a good result. Changing qualified immunity will have unforeseen consequences that will damage law enforcement forever. Law enforcement officers are not the 1%. Law enforcement officers are blue collar workers who live next door to you. Their kids go to school with your kids. They are much more likely to be able to relate with you than with the 1%. In addition, law enforcement officers are not the ones setting policy within police departments. Those policies are being set and implemented by elected officials and people appointed by those elected officials. When the Dept. of Justice sought to implement a consent decree in New Orleans, the consent decree did not contain mandates for each individual police officer. The consent decree contains mandates for the administration. That is because the administration is responsible for how law enforcement officers perform their jobs.

I am not sure changing qualified immunity for law enforcement officers only will be Constitutional. We are entitled to equal treatment under the law. One way or another, legislators need to keep their eye on the ball and prop up law enforcement so that the profession can best serve their respective communities. Legislators should NOT be taking actions that will forever damage law enforcement as a profession.

All law enforcement officers and those individuals supporting law enforcement should contact their elected officials and let them know that you do not support elimination of qualified immunity for law enforcement officers in any way. Emails, letters, and/or phone calls can be used to serve that purpose. Don’t be shy. This is extremely important.

Social Media and Law Enforcement Today

Will Aitchison is an attorney in Portland, Oregon. Will has been involved in representing police officers, police organizations, as well as cities and police departments. Recently, Will published a podcast titled “Ten Rules for Police Officer Social Media Posts.” You can listen to the podcast by clicking here. Will’s 10 rules are worth sharing. Here they are:

  1. Your 1st Amendment rights are limited. You are not going to win by relying on your 1st Amendment rights.
  2. Just because something is an internet meme does not mean you should repost it. If you repost it, then you own it. It is the same as if it came straight from your mouth.
  3. Nothing you post is private. While you should check your privacy settings, anything can be forwarded or screen-shotted.
  4. Before you post, ask yourself “How will my employer react to this post?” If the answer is that they will be annoyed or it will lead to an investigation or discipline, then you should ask yourself if it is worth it. I think if you have to ask if it is worth it, just don’t do it.
  5. Confine posts to purely positive posts — posts that don’t have anything to do with the current law enforcement environment.
  6. Will says if you are in doubt about a post, wait 24 hours – sleep on it. Or you can ask a respected senior officer what they think. Again, I say if you are in doubt, don’t post it.
  7. Think – Who are your online “friends?” Are they a tight-knit group? Or do you have “friends” who live on the other side of the country that you do not know? This relates to #3. Nothing is private.
  8. Can someone figure out that you are a police officer from your profile or some other source? If so, you will be treated as if you posted as a police officer.
  9. Brady says any evidence of discriminatory conduct or bias must be turned over to the defense. Is your post evidence of discriminatory conduct or bias?
  10. Before you post or comment, think about your safety and the safety of your job, family, etc. People will find you.

There have been a couple of disciplinary cases here in New Orleans. These are cases that can be prevented. Think before you click post.

NFOP President Makes Big Announcement About Federal PSOB

On April 9, National Fraternal Order of Police (“NFOP”) President Pat Yoes, former Louisiana FOP (“LAFOP”) President, announced changes to the federal Public Safety Officers’ Benefit (“PSOB”) program as it relates to COVID-19 deaths.

If you are not familiar with the federal PSOB program, it is administered by the Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Assistance. Click here for more information on PSOB. The PSOB program pays a benefit of $365,670 to the family of a law enforcement officer killed in the line of duty. PSOB also pays up to $1,248/month for education expenses for the children of an officer killed in the line of duty. Click here for more information on the PSOB benefit, which changes every year. Click here for the PSOB Fact Sheet.

The PSOB includes deaths caused by “infections diseases” already, but establishing that an officer died from an infectious disease contracted in the line of duty can be difficult. In light of the current circumstances as it relates to the SARS-CoV-2 virus and COVID-19, the resulting illness, the Department of Justice published new guidance regarding PSOB benefits.

In general, BJA will find that the evidence shows a public safety officer with COVID-19 contracted it in the line of duty, when (1) the officer had engaged in line of duty action or activity under circumstances that indicate that it was medically possible that the officer was exposed to the virus, SARS-CoV-2, while so engaged; and (2) the officer did contract the disease, COVID-19, within a time-frame where it was medically possible to contract the disease from that exposure. In addition, in the absence of evidence showing a different cause of death, BJA generally will find that the evidence shows a public safety officer who died while suffering from COVID-19 died as a direct and proximate result of COVID-19.

Of course, we would prefer that everyone is able to make it home from work at the end of every shift safely. Unfortunately, with deaths piling up across the United States, we know that is not reasonable. Some law enforcement officers have already been killed by COVID-19.

The guidance from the Department of Justice as it relates to PSOB benefits essentially makes the families of law enforcement officers who die from COVID-19 presumptively eligible for PSOB benefits as long as it is not medically impossible that the officer contracted COVID-19 in the line of duty.

Merely coming into contact with members of the public or co-workers makes it medically possible an officer is exposed to the SARS-CoV-2 virus. Hopefully, at some point soon, we will have a vaccine for this virus. Until then, every additional close interaction with another human being carries with it an increased risk of being exposed to the virus. The DOJ recognizes this in the 1st part of its guidance.

Additionally, it looks like symptoms of COVID-19 can begin as far out as 14-21 days from exposure to the SARS-CoV-2 virus. Furthermore, once someone develops symptoms, those symptoms could last for 14-21 days (or longer). The DOJ recognizes this in the 2nd part of its guidance.

Finally, the DOJ recognizes that if an officer was suffering from COVID-19 at the time of the officer’s death, it is most likely the death was caused by COVID-19 unless there is evidence of a different cause of death.

In short, the DOJ’s guidance to BJA is that as long as it is not medically impossible for an officer to have been infected by the SARS-CoV-2 virus and to have contracted COVID-19 as a result of “line of duty action or activity,” then BJA is going to assume that officer’s death to be eligible for PSOB benefits.

While this does not make reporting to work any safer, maybe it can provide law enforcement officers will a little sense of security that their families will receive the PSOB should they make the greatest sacrifice while protecting the public during this coronavirus pandemic. Many thanks to our hometown President, Pat Yoes. Furthermore, thanks to Attorney General Barr and President Trump for their support of law enforcement during this unique time in our history.

The Fraternal Order of Police is the world’s largest organization of sworn law enforcement officers, with more than 330,000 members in more than 2,200 lodges. We are the voice of those who dedicate their lives to protecting and serving our communities. We are committed to improving the working conditions of law enforcement officers and the safety of those we serve through education, legislation, information, community involvement, and employee representation. No one knows the dangers and the difficulties faced by today’s police officers better than another officer, and no one knows police officers better than the FOP.

NFOP President Pat Yoes is a Captain for the St. Charles Parish Sheriff’s Office.

The Louisiana Fraternal Order of Police, led by President Darrell Basco, has over 6,000 members statewide. The Crescent City Lodge, with President Walter Powers, Jr., has about 2,000 of those members in Louisiana. About 1,100 of those 2,000 members are active members of the New Orleans Police Department. The remainder of Crescent City Lodge members is mostly retired members of the New Orleans Police Department. The Crescent City Lodge represents about 90% of active NOPD officers from Recruits to the Superintendent of Police.

Note: While it is ultimately up to the deceased officer’s agency to submit the PSOB application, the Fraternal Order of Police has assisted agencies with applications for PSOB benefits on numerous occasions.

Donovan Livaccari,
General Counsel
Louisiana FOP

Safer at Home Video from LSU NCBRT

Below is a new video from the National Center for Biomedical Research and Training at L.S.U. The video provides some tips for people who work on the frontlines of the pandemic on how to make home a little safer for their families.

Happy New Year and some Advice on Disciplinary Investigations

First of all, I hope everyone had an enjoyable Holiday Season. It would be nicer if the Saints played like the offensive masters they are instead of letting the Vikings’ defense dictate the game. That being said, I know there are a lot of officers in New Orleans who were born and grew up in other parts of the country. If you’re not a Saints fan yet, I hope your team is faring better.

On a regular basis, I hear from officers “I didn’t want to bother you with something so minor” or “I know you are super busy, so I didn’t want to waste your time…” So, I want to get it straight.

First and foremost, you should call no matter how stupid or ridiculous the accusations may be.

What if you didn’t call at the beginning of the investigation? That’s ok. Calling is the important part. Got an email from Civil Service about a hearing you have to attend? Call me. I will help you out with that. Got a notice to render a statement? Call me. Got a call (or email if your computers are working) from your rank about scheduling a statement? Call me. Don’t think they can do whatever? Call me,

The fact is that sometimes I can be busy. That is because my practice is all about representing law enforcement officers. If you call and I can’t answer, leave a message or send a text message. You can send documents by texting or emailing photos of the documents.

The FOP’s Legal Defense Plan allows officers to benefit in so many ways that I can make my practice about representing law enforcement officers. It is important to remember that as a member of the FOP Legal Defense Plan, the attorney-client relationship exists between me and the officer. The FOP Legal Defense Plan acts only as the third-party plan administrator on behalf of the Legal Defense Plan. The FOP is not a part of the attorney-client relationship and doesn’t have any decision making authority in how a case is handled.

The FOP’s Legal Defense Plan covers administrative disciplinary investigations (on or off-duty), criminal investigations (on or off-duty – there may be some limitations to off-duty coverage), and defending civil actions related to an on-duty incident (secondary to primary coverage of employer). This legal protection is provided to accused officers or witness officers. In addition, the FOP will provide 2 hours of legal services per year for any legal need (Crescent City Lodge only) and 4 hours of legal services per year for family law issues (Crescent City Lodge only). The FOP also provides free notary services without limitation (Crescent City Lodge only).

The only trick to accessing these amazing legal benefits for law enforcement officers is to be an FOP member and pick up the phone and call or text — simple as that.

Yes. It was offensive pass interference.

Disciplinary Investigations and Off-Duty Conduct

This time of year, it is inevitable that an officer or two get in trouble for off-duty conduct. Sometimes the off-duty conduct leads to significant disciplinary action. The FOP will be there for you, as always, but, generally speaking, it is easy to avoid the off-duty behavior that comes to the attention of the Public Integrity Bureau, or Internal Affairs as the case may be.

The vast majority of discipline related to off-duty conduct is related to sex or the use of alcohol.

As police officers, you see it every single day. People who have been drinking make poor decisions. I’m just going to go ahead and say the obvious – Police Officers who have been drinking make poor decisions too. You may be able to get some professional courtesy on a regular traffic stop (and you might not – some officers are real nervous with a BWC and an ICC recording their every word and move), but if you are involved in an accident, the officer may not have any choice but to take action. A close relative of mine was stopped by an officer who used to be one of my subordinates. We did not have a contentious relationship and I helped him out quite a bit. I was surprised to learn that particular officer had arrested someone he knew to be a close relative of mine when he could have just as easily given him a ride home. My relative had not been involved in an accident or anything like that, it was a simple traffic stop. The point is that today’s political atmosphere makes it less likely that officers exercise any type of discretion.

It’s not just driving either. Alcohol can make it seem like a good idea to start an argument with the guy sitting on the barstool next to his. Alcohol can make it seem like a good idea to start a fight with an ex-husband. Did you know it is legal for an officer to carry a concealed firearm in an alcoholic beverage outlet? La. R.S. 14:95.5 allows it, as does the federal laws known as LEOSA. If, however, you think it is a good idea to carry a concealed weapon in a barroom, I would have to ask you if you are drinking while reading this. Just don’t do it. Just FYI, you are not covered by LEOSA if you are intoxicated. Also, for the New Orleans Police Department, Rule 3, Professional Conduct, Paragraph 9, Use of Alcohol/Drugs Off Duty, says that commissioned personnel are forbidden from carrying firearms in an ABO, while consuming alcohol, or while intoxicated. Part of that rule may still violate LEOSA, but La. R.S. 14:95.5 allows the Superintendent to make it a violation of Department rules to carry a firearm in an ABO.

Sex is the next source of off-duty disciplinary action. It is not a good idea to hook up with people you meet on calls for service. It does not matter if they are the complainant or the subject of the complaint.

If you come across someone who looks like they could use a ride home, make sure it is to their home and not yours. Make sure the dispatcher knows about it and that all of the transport mileages are recorded. Finally, make sure all of the recording devices you carry around these days are activated.

There are also police officers involved in abusive relationships. Now, I understand this is not as simple as just saying “don’t do it.” I would, however, like to encourage any officer involved in an abusive relationship to seek help. At the New Orleans Police Department, Cecile Tebo is available at no cost through the Office Assistance Program to help however she can. No matter where you are or what department you work for, there is help available somewhere. Take advantage of that help before you lose your job over it.

The standard, as is always the case, is that the alleged infraction must bear a real and substantial relationship to the efficient operation of the public service. The Courts in Louisiana have applied that rule fairly liberally. That means that if your Department believes there is a real and substantial relationship between the alleged dereliction and the efficient operation of the public service, the Courts are likely to go along with that.

As we are recently reminded by the Louisiana Supreme Court, neither the Commission nor a reviewing court should “second-guess” an appointing authority’s decisions. See Lange v. Orleans Levee District, 10–0140, p. 17 (La.11/30/10), 56 So.3d 925, 936. The Commission and a reviewing court may intervene only when the appointing authority’s decisions are arbitrary and capricious or characterized by an abuse of discretion. Id. Moreover, neither the Commission nor the reviewing court may serve as a de facto pardon board. Id. “[S]ympathy is not a legal standard.” Id.

Chinh Nguyen v. Dep’t of Police, 2011-0570 (La. App. 4 Cir. 8/31/11), 72 So. 3d 939, 944.
I hope everyone has had an enjoyable Holiday Season and that none of this advice is necessary. If it becomes necessary, call me.

VERY IMPORTANT – 1st Amendment Update

UPDATE (8/1/19) – I started off with warnings not to share your political ideas on Facebook or the like. My recommendation has changed. Do not post anything on Facebook, Twitter, or the like. There are no privacy settings that will protect you. Sometimes it takes it hitting home to really make the message clear. 2 Gretna Police Department officers fired for one Facebook post. However, these days, hitting home does not mean it only hits home. The story of the 2 Gretna officers fired for Facebook posts can also be found in the New York Times. One of the Gretna officers wrote a post. The other officer merely clicked “Like” on the post. Play around with the search bar on Facebook. It is much more powerful than you might imagine. Search Google for tips and tricks for the Facebook search bar.

Just don’t do it. If you want to share pictures of your newborn child with your relatives spread across the country, go ahead – use Facebook – you can’t beat it. However, if you have a joke, a meme, or anything like that, keep it to yourself. When is the last time you tried to convey humor or sarcasm in a text message and it failed completely? It is very difficult to convey emotion or feeling. The same is true with Facebook. To make matters worse, there are those who don’t understand that articles in The Onion are satire, or what satire is. There are people who really believe that the United States Postal Service would create a  commercial to brag about the number of fingers shipped by kidnappers. They are quite comical. You will find at least some of them amazing and amusing. However, what you wrote as a police officer can and will get you fired. Hitting a “Like” button is reported in the New York Times.

We post the FOP newsletter in the Crescent City Lodge Facebook Group. Anything wrong with reading that there? No. You probably cannot post in the Crescent City Lodge Facebook Group at all — well, not without approval. Why? It is for your own protection. There is no such thing as privacy on the Internet and nothing goes away. There are some things that are completely beyond your control. This is not one of those things. Educate yourself and protect yourself – click here.

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Do you want to be in the movies?

I received an email from Central Casting Louisiana. The test of the email is below. Anyone who is interested (and available) can email Hunt@CentralCasting.com.

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