A local judge ruled last week that the city of Monroe’s lawsuit against The Ouachita Citizen and others to shield interim Monroe Police Chief Reginald “Reggie” Brown’s internal affairs records could not be lumped in with the city’s lawsuit against the former mayor’s campaign staffer.
In a virtual hearing conducted July 15, Fourth Judicial District Court Judge Wendell Manning ruled that a trial about public records requests for Brown’s IA records would proceed apart from a similar trial concerning public records requests for 45 police officers’ IA records, including Brown’s.
Under former Mayor Jamie Mayo, the city sued The Ouachita Citizen as well as Monroe businessmen Nicholas “Nick” Farrar Sr. and Eddie Hakim after they each submitted public records requests asking for copies of Brown’s IA records. Shortly afterward, Gwendolyn Dickson submitted an even broader public records request to the city, asking for the IA records of Brown and 44 other police officers. As previously reported by this newspaper, Dickson was a campaign staffer for Mayo. (Earlier this month, Mayo’s bid for re-election failed.)
“I just want to point out the uniqueness of this,” said Scott Sternberg with the New Orleans law firm Sternberg, Naccari & White. “A private body has sued private individuals for requesting public records. It’s almost unprecedented.”
Sternberg is representing The Ouachita Citizen and Farrar in this case.
Sternberg pointed out that under normal circumstances, the person submitting a public records request would sue the city to obtain the public records, meaning there would be separate lawsuits instead of one proceeding.
“The only reason these (requests) are consolidated is because the city of Monroe took the unbelievably broad step of suing public record requesters,” Sternberg said. “Your honor, the request that Mr. Farrar and the reporter from (The Ouachita Citizen) made is extremely narrow. It’s only about Mr. Brown.”
In light of Manning’s ruling, the public records requests will advance to separate trials.
“They cannot be tried conveniently together,” Manning said. “Gwendolyn Dickson’s request shall be separate and tried separately therein.”
Mayo appointed Brown to serve as interim chief on Feb. 1. Among officers at the department, Brown was widely known to be Mayo’s favorite for the job if Mayo remained mayor when it came time for the mayor to select an applicant. (Newly elected Mayor Friday Ellis will now interview applicants and select the next police chief.)
“We get IA records for police chiefs all over the state, because they’re the police chief,” Sternberg said.
Assistant City Attorney Brandon Creekbaum and Brown’s attorney, Jessica Williams, argued that the outcome of The Ouachita Citizen’s public records request would have bearing on Dickson’s request, since Brown was a subject in each of the public records requests.
“They kind of skirted over it, but Mr. Brown is among the other officers,” Williams said.
Monroe attorney Joe Guerriero, who represents Hakim, argued it would be unduly burdensome to require The Ouachita Citizen, Farrar and Hakim to undergo discovery and trial preparation for 44 officer’s IA files instead of focusing only on Brown’s file.
“Why should we have to sit through 45 other people’s briefs when we have no interest in it?” Guerriero said.
In the past, the city has disclosed Brown’s IA files in response to public records requests without objection, including a public records request from The Ouachita Citizen about an IA investigation of Brown for payroll fraud. Sternberg and Creekbaum acknowledged the the previous disclosure of Brown’s IA records.
Dickson’s public records request drew opposition from current and past members of the police department’s local union. Many of the officers named in Dickson’s lawsuit recently filed a petition to intervene in the lawsuit.
Alexandria attorneys Mark Vilar and Aaron Green are representing the intervening officers.
The officers asking for leave to intervene in the case included Randall Adams, Timothy Antley, Tobyn Berry, Vincent Brown, Michael Calloway, James Clark, James Crouch, Jared DeSadier, Eugene Ellis, Michael Fendall, Christopher Florey, Jeffery Gilbert, Brant Heath, Craig Honeycutt, Roderick Jackson, Charles Johnson, Douglas Lambert, Emmett Mapps, James Marlow, Sean Reddick, Jeremy Sturdivant, James Thigpen, Mickey Tucker and Christopher Turner.