The city of Monroe sued The Ouachita Citizen earlier this week to thwart the newspaper from obtaining records concerning the Monroe Police Department’s internal affairs investigations of Cpl. Reginald “Reggie” Brown, who is now interim police chief.
Brown began work as the department’s interim police chief on Feb. 1. Mayor Jamie Mayo appointed Brown to the interim position. In recent years, several officers speaking with this newspaper have noted Mayo’s plans to make Brown the department’s permanent police chief in spite of the controversial record dogging Brown’s career.
The city filed its petition for declaratory judgment on Feb. 10 at Fourth Judicial District Court, asking the court to determine whether the city must release Brown’s internal affairs, or IA, records in response to three public records requests.
The Ouachita Citizen submitted one of those public records requests on Jan. 24 for a copy of documents in Brown’s IA file. Another public records request was submitted on Jan. 21 by Nicholas Farrar Sr. for all records in Brown’s IA file. An even broader public records request was later submitted by Gwendolyn Dickson, who sought the IA records of 45 Monroe police officers, including Brown.
The Ouachita Citizen’s request pertained only to Brown as a public figure. City attorney Angie Sturdivant argued The Ouachita Citizen’s request was as “overbroad and unduly burdensome” as the public records request submitted by Dickson, who sought 45 officers’ IA files.
In a prepared statement published by Mayo’s press relations officer, Sturdivant claimed the city firmly believed in an open and transparent government.
According to Sturdivant’s statement, the city’s petition was not an attempt to delay responding to any particular request — such as the two requests specifically seeking Brown’s IA records.
“This action was not taken to delay responding to any particular request; but it was done to ensure that the City appropriately takes into account the public’s right to know and the employees’ right to privacy,” Sturdivant said. “We hope that the court’s guidance in this case will serve as a useful tool to help us respond to similar public records requests in the future.”
Farrar provided The Ouachita Citizen with a statement in response to the city’s petition.
“It’s disappointing that Mayo’s administration chose to muddy the waters by mixing all of the records request into a single suit,” said Farrar in a statement. “Precedence exists to deny the Dickson public records request on its face as overly broad in scope. Sadly, the Mayo administration would rather waste taxpayer resources and the court’s time in the attempt to prevent my civil right to public records. Corporal Reginald ‘Reggie’ Brown was appointed Interim Chief of the Monroe Police Department without any public oversight or vetting process. Thusly, I believe his Internal Affairs records are a matter of great public interest more now that ever before.”
The process of selecting a permanent police chief for the Monroe Police Department is expected to begin when Mayo asks the Monroe Municipal Fire and Police Civil Service Board to call for a police chief exam. The process involves receiving applications, taking an exam, conducting interviews, a recommendation and a final vote by the Monroe City Council. The process could take about six months, Mayo said on Monday.
According to Sam Hanna Jr., publisher of The Ouachita Citizen, the newspaper was not interested in obtaining the IA records of all 45 officers named in Dickson’s public records request. The newspaper sought only the IA reports in which Brown, alone, was the subject of an internal affairs investigation.
disclosed IA report
The city’s opposition to this newspaper’s public records request was at odds with its past disclosure of IA reports concerning Brown. In 2014, The Ouachita Citizen submitted a public records request for a copy of an IA report pertaining to Brown’s service on the Ouachita Parish Metro Narcotics Unit. Brown was ultimately removed from the Metro Narcotics Unit after allegations surfaced that he improperly transported a methamphetamine lab and possibly committed public payroll fraud.
The city furnished Brown’s IA report, with redactions of some names, to this newspaper and later to other media outlets as well. Brown characterized the controversy surrounding his time at Metro Narcotics as “rumors.” At the time, Brown claimed he was reprimanded for actions during his time at Metro Narcotics because of racial discrimination.
During interviews with The Ouachita Citizen at the time, Mayo said the withdrawal of Monroe police officers from Metro Narcotics had “absolutely nothing” to do with the payroll fraud allegations against Brown. Mayo told The Ouachita Citizen he ordered the police officers’ removal because of Brown’s claims that he was discriminated against at Metro Narcotics because he was one of only two black officers assigned to the unit.
Brown received written reprimands after his Metro Narcotics supervisor, Capt. Jay Ellerman, notified former Police Chief Quentin Holmes of Brown’s requests for federal overtime pay, which appeared excessive.
Brown also was reprimanded at Metro Narcotics for unsafely transporting “volatile chemicals” from a methamphetamine lab to Metro Narcotics’ offices, endangering other officers’ lives, as well as for failing to follow proper procedures in filing seizure warrants, which resulted in a loss of funds for the unit.
The Internal Affairs investigation ultimately determined the allegations that Brown committed federal payroll fraud were baseless, though several discrepancies were discovered in Brown’s time sheets. In 2012, Brown worked 32 cases, closed 28 cases and made 15 arrests. He requested 460 hours of overtime in 2012.
The apparently excessive overtime pay requests stemmed from Brown’s time sheets in 2013, in which he filed nearly the same amount of overtime as in 2012 — 452 hours, though he worked only six cases, closed three cases and made only three arrests.
The Internal Affairs investigation described one of those cases as a “ghost case,” since Brown requested 140 hours of overtime for it, though several discrepancies with the case were noted.
The Internal Affairs investigation also revealed that other officers at Metro Narcotics believed Brown was assigned to the unit so he could report on its operations to Holmes or Mayo. Brown is a personal friend of Mayo’s and once worked as the mayor’s personal driver.
for 45 officers’ files
Dickson’s request for the 45 officers’ IA records was not dated, though city documents indicate it was submitted after the city received the public records requests from Farrar and The Ouachita Citizen.
The Ouachita Citizen was unable to reach Dickson for comment.
Initially, the city did not object to Farrar or The Ouachita Citizen’s public records request. As of Jan. 27, city documents show City Attorney Angie Sturdivant was in the process of compiling Brown’s records. The city responded to Dickson’s request on Jan. 28.
Sturdivant’s husband, Jeremy Sturdivant, was among the 45 police officers named in Dickson’s public records request.
“Indeed, the City believes that many (of the) requested records are not subject to disclosure, but the requestors continue to seek those records,” stated the city’s petition. “For that reason, but also mindful of the public’s right to know to the extent provided by law, the City of Monroe requests that the Court determine which records are required to be disclosed by law and, if necessary, that the Court conduct an in camera inspection of the requested records of its current and/or former employees described above to determine which of these records, if any, should legally be provided to the Defendants before any such records are released to them.”
The city expressed a concern that releasing the IA records would violate the constitutional rights of some or all the 45 officers mentioned in the public records requests.
“Further, the requests may be considered overbroad and unduly burdensome due to the amount of time and effort required to review, research, compile and redact these records, some of which are digital in nature and not easily redacted,” stated the city’s petition.
According to Sturdivant, several of the employees who were the subject of the public records request objected to the disclosure of their IA records.
“Many of the employee’s subject to these requests have expressed their formal opposition to the release of their personnel or investigatory files,” Sturdivant said.
Monroe Police Sgt. Tim Antley, who is president of the local police union, told The Ouachita Citizen on Tuesday that the union’s membership recently met to discuss the public records requests. He claimed the union’s membership wanted to protect all its employees, not just one employee — an apparent reference to Brown.
“The union called a special meeting to address access to all those types records, not just those particular to one employee,” Antley said. “We’ve taken the position that we oppose that. We feel collectively that these things are done internally and run their course through our procedures.”
When asked whether he and the union were approached by Sturdivant about the matter, Antley did not answer. Later, when asked again, Antley said, “No, we were aware of it.”
Antley was among the 45 officers named in Dickson’s public records request.
According to Antley, the police union called a special meeting to discuss the matter but did not vote.
“Of all the members who were present, I don’t think there was anyone in our membership who agreed to release everything,” Antley said. “I hope the public understands we are in support of being open and transparent in all criminal matters.”
Dickson’s public records request for the IA files of 45 police officers asked for the records to be sent to an email belonging to her husband, Elton Dickson. The current officers named in her public records request were, as listed in the request: Don Bartley, Eugene Ellis, Mary Ann Tellis, Roderick Jackson, Vincent Guiterrez, James Marlow, Brant Heath, Reginald Brown, Emmett Mapps, Benjamin Baw, James Clark, Vincent Brown, Sean Reddick, Mickey Tucker, Craig Honeycutt, Jeff Gilbert, Timothy Antley, Michael Fendall, Jared DeSadier, James Thigpen, Chris Turner, Randall Adams, Doug Lambert, Chris Florey, Tobyn Berry, Charles Johnson, Jeremy Sturdivant, James Crouch, Thomas Rhodes, and Charles Johnson. Dickson’s request also asked for the IA records of former police officers, including Mark Johnson, Michael Calloway, Ronald Schlueter, Robert Biggers, Tom Medley, Kirk Petersen, Jeremy Kent, Karen Hilhouse, Mark Huggins, Jimmy Fried, Doug Tarver, Jimmy Crockett, Charles Roark, Jeff Turner, and Jeff Pilcher.