The local civil service board should investigate whether Monroe Police Chief Victor Zordan lied about an investigation into how a Monroe man died while while in police custody, the deceased’s relative says.
Carmelitha Long filed a petition for investigation with the Monroe Municipal Fire and Police Civil Service Board last month, asking the board to investigate how Zordan handled the case involving the death of her brother, David Harris, 51, of Monroe.
Last month, an officer with the Monroe Police Department encountered Harris, 51, near the intersection of Standifer Avenue and Alabama Street. Harris was described as behaving erratically. Harris reportedly became combative and fought with officers, leading to his arrest and booking at Ouachita Correctional Center.
At the prison, Harris became unresponsive, and deputies and medical staff administered medical aid but Harris died. The cause of death is unknown.
In her petition, Long said Harris’ next of kin was not notified of his death until four hours later and the family was given no explanation.
Long argued that Zordan was untruthful because of apparently conflicting accounts of which law enforcement agency was investigating Harris’ death.
“Chief Zordan was untruthful in his statements to the Monroe Free Press, the family of the deceased and the citizens when he advised that the David Harris investigation was immediately referred to the Ouachita Parish Sheriff’s Office,” stated Long’s petition.
That would be the case because the Lincoln Parish Sheriff’s Office ultimately notified Harris’ family to say its deputies would conduct the investigation.
“This information was not relayed or confirmed by Chief Zordan or the City’s administration until almost a week later, leaving the family in unnecessary confusion, doubt, and rightful (suspicion) of the administration,” stated Long’s petition.
The Lincoln Parish Sheriff’s Office reached out to Harris’ family because Lincoln Parish sheriff’s detectives are part of the North Louisiana Sheriff’s Investigative Unit, or NLSIU. The special investigative unit was formed in March and includes investigators from seven parishes, including Lincoln and Ouachita.
The special investigative unit began investigating the Harris case on April 7.
In a May 10 affidavit submitted to the Civil Service Board, Ouachita Parish sheriff’s Chief Deputy Marc Mashaw testified Zordan had not lied or tried to conceal an investigation of Harris’ death.
According to Mashaw, any confusion about who was investigating Harris’ death was due to the commencement of two investigations by different law enforcement bodies.
The Ouachita Parish Sheriff’s Office investigated the circumstances of Harris’ death at the jail while the special investigative unit would investigate the circumstances surrounding Harris’ experience in police custody before he arrived at the jail, according to Mashaw.
“Two days later, on April 5, 2021, I called Chief Vic Zordan, Police Chief for the City of Monroe and asked Chief Zordan, if he wanted to invoke the assistant of the Northeast Louisiana Sheriff Investigation Unit to investigate the circumstances surrounding Mr. Harris’s death before arriving to the Jail on April 3, 2021,” stated Mashaw’s affidavit.
Zordan “instantly accepted” Mashaw’s invitation to request assistance from the special investigative unit, according to Mashaw.
“As stated above, because Mr. Harris passed away while at the Jail, the Ouachita Parish Sheriff was already conducting an investigation as to what transpired at the Jail, but without the assistance of the NLSIU,” stated Mashaw’s affidavit.
That meant Zordan’s statement to the Monroe Free Press that the Ouachita Parish Sheriff’s Office was investigating Harris’ death at the jail was correct, according to Mashaw.
“Chief Zordan’s statement to the Monroe Free Press was true,” stated Mashaw’s affidavit. “To my knowledge, before our conversation of April 5, Chief Zordan did not know of the NLSIU and did not know that he had to make a specific request to obtain the assistance of the NLSIU to investigate the circumstances of the events leading up to Mr. Harris’s death, while Mr. Harris was in the City of Monroe Police Department’s custody before arriving at the Jail.”
Long’s petition also asked the Civil Service Board to investigate how Zordan and Mayor Friday Ellis handled the investigation of a complaint by Timothy Williams last year. Body cam footage released by Ellis’ administration last summer revealed Williams was kicked by former Monroe Police Cpl. Jared DeSadier while Williams was handcuffed and lying, face down, on the ground.
DeSadier has since resigned from the force and currently faces criminal charges stemming from the incident.
The investigation of Williams’ complaint was ultimately turned over to Louisiana State Police, an outcome which Long and other community members have sought in the Harris case as well.
At recent Monroe City Council meetings, Verbon Muhammad Sr, with the local chapter of the Nation of Islam, has called on city officials to ensure the Harris case is turned over to State Police instead of the special investigative unit or the Ouachita Parish Sheriff’s Office.
“We do not want the Ouachita Parish Sheriff’s Office to investigate this case,” said Muhammad, who described himself as a friend of Harris’. “We want it turned over to Louisiana State Police for transparency. We’re not interested in this new investigative unit. Just turn it over to the State Police. The community is watching this.”
According to Muhammad, Ellis and other City Council members—except City Councilwoman Juanita Woods—had failed to properly acknowledge the in-custody death or offer any words of consolation to Harris’ family.
“Everybody’s tight lipped,” Muhammad said.
Last year, former Monroe Police Cpl. Reginald “Reggie” Brown was serving as interim police chief at the time when Williams submitted his excessive force complaint. Later, after Ellis took office and appointed Zordan as the new police chief, Zordan fired Brown for failing to turn over Williams’ complaint to State Police.
Brown is currently appealing his termination.
In Long’s petition for investigation of the Harris case, she argued proper procedure was followed in the Williams case by requesting State Police assistance but proper procedure was being ignored in the Harris case.
Long also argued that a double standard was in place since Brown was expected to turn over a police custody complaint to State Police but Zordan was not.
“Undeniably, this is an extremely drastic change of investigative policy and protocol by Chief Zordan and the Mayor Ellis administration in comparison to a recent administrative investigation in which the former Chief of Police was terminated for an alleged delay in referring an investigation to the Louisiana State Police, although Chief Zordan (has) yet to do so,” stated Long’s petition. “This petition requests that the board investigate the actions of Chief Zordan and the Mayor Ellis Administration in comparison to the termination of Former Chief Brown, since both Timothy Williams and the David Harris matters are nearly identical in nature.”
Monroe attorney Jessica Williams, with the Pleasant, Williams and Banks-Miley Law Group, is representing Long.
Jessica Williams also has represented Timothy Williams and Brown.