Embattled state police commissioner resigns amid reports of impropriety
BATON ROUGE - Governor John Bel Edwards is taking another look at a member of the State Police Commission in light of recently-revealed indications that the commissioner improperly used his authority to try to get tickets fixed.
> NEW: Friday, the governor said commissioner Calvin Braxton resigned.
“[Friday], I accepted the resignation of Commissioner Braxton from the Louisiana State Police Commission. I believe he made the right decision. The law regarding the removal of a commission member dictates that, as the governor, I must preside over a public hearing. As such, it was critically important for me to remain impartial and review only the evidence before me. Due process is important. Public officials must hold themselves to the highest ethical standard, and I will accept nothing less as we consider a replacement on the commission.”
In a report Monday, WWL-TV reported that Calvin Braxton appears to have used his position on the commission to persuade Florida authorities to dismiss a 2015 traffic ticket.
Edwards knew of that incident last year when he reviewed a request by the troopers' advocacy group to remove Braxton because of an unrelated incident where they say he behaved improperly in response to the arrest of his daughter in a drunken-driving case.
After a review, Edwards did not try to remove Braxton, a car dealership owner from Natchitoches, from the board. Braxton was appointed by former Gov. Bobby Jindal and can only be removed "for cause," according to the governor's office.
But emails WWL-TV obtained in response to a public records request show that Braxton also may have tried to get another ticket fixed in 2016. WWL, of New Orleans, is a news partner with WBRZ.
That's news to the governor's office, which told WBRZ Tuesday that "just [Monday], the Governor's Office was made aware of the existence of emails sent on behalf of Commissioner Braxton regarding traffic citations."
The written statement released by Edwards' office said "the governor will review this new information and determine the next steps."
It went on to say that "public officials must hold themselves to the highest ethics standard. The governor will accept nothing less."
The State Police Commission handles disciplinary appeals for troopers, determining if the state police brass have appropriately punished officers for wrongdoing.
In the 2015 case, Braxton asked Cathy Derbonne, who was then the executive director of the commission, for help with a ticket he got in Florida. She used State Police Commission letterhead, which prominently featured Braxton’s status as commission chairman, when she sent a request for the ticket to be dismissed. That's exactly what happened, WWL reported.
The report also cites another attempt by Braxton to have a ticket fixed in May 2016.
His assistant e-mailed Derbonne saying, “Please see the attached ticket. Mr. Braxton wants you to help with this.”
Derbonne suggested that Braxton contact a retired trooper from Shreveport.
What is unclear from the email record is who received the ticket, because the email servers did not save the attachments to the message.
Braxton raised the ire of the Louisiana State Troopers Association when he repeatedly complained to the commander of Troop E after one of the troopers arrested his daughter for drunken driving.
State Trooper Jayson Linebaugh arrested Brandy Braxton after she blew a 0.139 grams percent on a breath alcohol test. Anything above 0.08 is considered presumptive evidence of drunken driving.
Capt. Jay Oliphant, who was troop commander at that time, called Calvin Braxton the day after the arrest as a courtesy. Braxton then called him several other times to complain about his daughter’s treatment and ask that Linebaugh be punished. Oliphant wrote a report about the calls months after they occurred.
Oliphant’s report was addressed to Kevin Reeves, who at the time was a major and command inspector of patrol operations. Reeves is now superintendent of State Police.
According to Oliphant’s report, Braxton said the trooper should have known who he was and “should have given his daughter professional courtesy, as well as utilizing distraction in not arresting her.”
In later calls, he allegedly called Linebaugh a liar and said that “he has known troopers to get fired for lying.” He also suggested that Linebaugh be punished with an assignment to work in New Orleans for 90 days. Oliphant did not reassign Linebaugh.
The troopers association’s lawyer sent a letter to the governor shortly after that report was filed asking for Braxton to be dismissed. In that letter, Floyd Falcon said Braxton had threatened to treat Linebaugh unfairly if he ever had to appear before the commission.
“We take this as an expression of a clear threat not only against Trooper Linebaugh but also other Troopers appearing before the Commission and assert that under these circumstances that it is highly unlikely that any Trooper will receive a fair and impartial hearing before Mr. Braxton,” the letter said.
State Police officials distanced the agency from the actions of commissioners, saying that “the LISP Commission and the appointed Commissioners have no role in the day to day operations of the State Police,” according to a written statement.
“And although Mr. Braxton’s inappropriate requests and comments have no direct bearing on the enforcement action taken by State Police, it was important for the department to document the incident and memorialize his conduct to protect the agency in the event that other inappropriate conduct occurred in the future,” the statement said.
The commission and the troopers association have both been under a cloud for more than a year because of an investigation into potentially illegal campaign contributions. The association was accused of funneling money through its executive director to campaigns including the governor. Edwards’ campaign later returned the money. Three members of the police commission were removed in the wake of the campaign contribution investigation, and Derbonne resigned earlier this year.