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Constable allowed to return to work despite pending criminal charges raises concern among watchdogs

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BATON ROUGE- Watchdogs are raising questions about whether a law enforcement officer arrested for domestic violence battery with child endangerment should have been allowed to return to work even though his criminal charges are pending.

Colby Burns was arrested last month after a woman alleges she had to lock herself in a bathroom and call for help. Investigators said Burns wrestled for her cell phone causing red marks on her chest. At that time, Burns was placed on unpaid leave.

Friday, the WBRZ Investigative Unit captured Burns working the front desk of Baton Rouge City Court. Burns didn't answer any questions and briskly walked away from our cameras.

Constable Terrica Williams told WBRZ that she takes a strong stance against domestic violence, but could not comment on this case because it's a personnel matter.

"I do not approve of Domestic Violence," Williams said in an email to WBRZ. "If someone has broken the law it will be handled in the court system."

Rafael Goyeneche with the Metropolitan Crime Commission said what's happening is not a good look for the constable's office.

"Someone who has been arrested for domestic violence is back carrying a badge and has a firearm and the case hasn't been screened yet by the district attorney's office and the district attorney's office hasn't included their assessment of the danger he poses going forward in this," Goyeneche said. "It appears special considerations have been made for this deputy constable."

Goyeneche said Constable Williams should also explain what went into her decision-making process to allow Burns to return to work the pending charges.

"The constable, the elected official, should inform the public what her thought process was and why the decisions were made in this manner with respect to this case," Goyeneche said.

A stay-away order was filed last week, requiring that Burns has no contact with the victim. His next court date has not yet been scheduled. 

The Iris Domestic Violence Center issued the following statement:

"I can't speak to the details of this particular case, but anytime a law enforcement officer is arrested for domestic violence, it is particularly troublesome. Law enforcement agencies are critical partners in combating domestic violence and assisting us to fulfill the mission of Iris to serve survivors of domestic abuse and violence. That includes holding their abusers accountable.

We support any actions by the Constable's office that would serve to minimize the risk to this victim. At the very least, that would certainly include job suspension until such time as a complete review of the case specifics is conducted by the Constable's office and any pending criminal charge for the abuse is adjudicated by the prosecutors and the court system. To do anything less than that may not only put this victim at further risk, it sends the wrong signal to other victims who may already feel as though their complaints aren't taken seriously but are being minimized.

Countless cases of domestic abuse or family violence are not reported by victims because they don't feel they can trust the system. Even when complaints are raised and charges filed against an abuser, it's not uncommon to find victims later dropping those charges for any number of reasons including threats from others, economic hardships, or protection of their children. Not reporting abuse or a victim subsequently dropping charges against the abuser does not mean it did not happen. Victims of abuse simply make a decision based on their personal situation.

In this situation, The officer charged with domestic abuse battery and child endangerment is presumed innocent despite these charges. I am not in a position to mandate what each law enforcement agency should do when one of their own is arrested and charged with domestic abuse battery.

However, the pressing of domestic abuse criminal charges against another individual has consequences. If convicted, that individual would be required to disclose and surrender any firearms to the sheriff. In this case, the district attorney's office may choose to prosecute the case, even without the victims cooperation, which would also result in the surrender of firearms if he is convicted.

Common sense, safety and the seriousness of these charge would seem to dictate a better - and safer course of action - would be to continue the suspension of the officer from his job duties until such time as all matters had been reviewed and concluded by all agencies.

I do not know if that has been done here and I can only hope that the decision of the Constable's office to allow the officer to return to work, with his weapon, was as the result of a full and thorough review of the circumstances of this case.

Without that, I would think prudence mandates erring on the side of caution and safety in order to assist this particular victim and avoid sending the wrong signal to other victims of abuse."

John J. Price
Executive Director-
Iris Domestic Violence Center

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