Investigative Unit: Officers on leave allowed to work extra duty
BATON ROUGE- The Baton Rouge Police Department changed its policy on who could be assigned extra duty after the WBRZ Investigative Unit found officers on administrative leave were still collecting payment from extra duty.
Among those was Blane Salamoni, the officer who is tied to the shooting death of Alton Sterling. Salamoni is on leave from his regular duties as a police officer as a state investigation into Sterling's death is conducted. Federal authorities found no basis for charges against those involved and passed any additional decisions to the Louisiana Attorney General.
In addition to Salamoni, WBRZ found a pattern revealed nine other officers on some sort of suspension collected extra duty pay.
Officers are put on administrative leave for various reasons. Typically, if an officer is on leave with pay, they are not on duty and are not to work as a police officer.
"It's disturbing because you have someone acting as a police officer that doesn't have the authority to arrest, detain keep the peace or be a law enforcement officer and use force if necessary to react to a situation," Attorney Michael Adams said.
Adams, who is representing the Sterling family in a lawsuit regarding Alton Sterling's death, said he found the extra duty pay revelations deeply troubling.
"It's been a practice over several years that the police department allowed this to happen, but I just wonder at what levels in the department was something like this approved," Adams said.
Documents obtained by WBRZ were released through a public records request. The city reported the following officers collecting extra duty pay despite being on leave:
2017- Donald Steele and Jeremiah Ardoin
2016- Todd Bourgoyne, Blane Salamoni and David Burtwell
2015- Charles Weary and Doug Chustz
2014- Neil Porter
2013- Wroten Brumfield
2012- Ernie Brewer
"During these critical times, officers are on paid administrative leave which means these officers stay home," Adams said. "They are entitled to receive their pay but they stay home. They can't use their police car, use their service revolver or weapon, use their commission or badge to detain or arrest or possibly even use deadly force against somebody."
When Salamoni was placed on leave, the police department said he was told he had to turn in his gun, car and badge. But, the extra duty form at an area bank where he collected extra pay clearly reports that they needed a uniformed officer in a Baton Rouge Police Department vehicle. Even though Salamoni had just been placed on leave, documents show Salamoni managed that extra duty. Baton Rouge Police Policy clearly states officers on administrative leave, serving a suspension or who have not been confirmed may not engage in extra duty.
"That's inexcusable," Rafael Goyaneche, President of the Metropolitan Crime Commission said. "It shows the department is not following their own rules and procedures."
Baton Rouge Police said after the WBRZ Investigative Unit began asking questions, it began reviewing department files. Interim Police Chief Jonny Dunnam said after a review, and learning of this story, the extra duty issue has come to an end.
"We have since changed the policy,” he said. Changes took effect in September.
Goyaneche said he is still concerned, wondering who is overseeing what goes on at Baton Rouge Police.
"Internally, the officers in the department know the rules and when they see the rules being selectively enforced against certain officers it creates some dissatisfaction and morale problems within the department," Goyaneche said. "Additionally, it shows a lack of supervision with management."
Even though officers were told they couldn't work extra duty because they were on leave, Dunnam believes the officers took advantage of a loophole which allowed them to work behind the scenes on the administrative side of extra duty.
"After the public information request was filed by y'all, we looked into the incidents involving officers working extra duty while on leave," Dunnam said. “The investigation revealed these officers worked administratively, running extra duties, calling officers, these were duties they did from their house."
Dunnam said the department is becoming more accountable now.
"I want the public to know that we've recognized the fault in our policy. We worked to change it. It has been changed, and moving forward it won't happen again."
But, some wonder if a deeper probe needs to occur.
"There needs to be an audit and review of the detail internally," Goyaneche said.
In Salamoni's case, Baton Rouge Police said his leave letter clearly stated he could not work extra duty. But, the language was not specific enough, which allowed him to still collect money for work he should not have been performing.