Off-Duty, But Not Off the Hook


 

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Police officers promise to “serve and protect,” but what happens when an officer’s the person you need protection from?

Not Your Ordinary Traffic Stop

After a three-day hearing, the New Orleans Civil Service Commission affirmed the firing of a 20-year veteran police officer for the New Orleans Police Department, who was arrested and charged with second degree battery after severely injuring a man while off-duty.  Fulton v. Dep't of Police, No. 2017-CA-0523, 2017 BL 439039 (La. App. 4th Cir. Dec. 06, 2017).

The officer was stopped at a red light in his personal car when a pickup truck, attempting to enter a turning lane, hit his car. After looking at the damage to his car, the officer started yelling at the truck driver and his passengers, and even attempted to open the truck doors. The officer called the police to report the accident and followed the truck driver to his house. While still on the phone with the police, a second confrontation between the officer and driver took place.  At one point, both men brought out weapons—the driver had a machete while the officer had his service weapon.

Driving Factors

Although the charges against the officer were dropped, the department still chose to fire him, stating that it had good cause because his conduct impaired its mission of providing a safe environment for the public. He argued that as a classified civil service employee, he had a right to continued employment but that protection only extends to employees fired without cause. Additionally, the department can enforce appropriate standards of conduct for its employees, and it has discretion when it comes to necessary discipline.

Considering the two confrontations and the officer’s call to the police, the commission found that the department had sufficient cause to fire the officer. In its judgment, it said that the department had a duty and responsibility to deter its officers from engaging in aggressive interactions with residents—on and off-duty.  It also said that it based its findings on the fact that the department had a lesser standard of proof—only having to show that the officer engaged in misconduct that affected its efficiency by a “preponderance of evidence”—compared to the "beyond a reasonable doubt" standard in his criminal case.

Road Rage to the Extreme

The officer argued that his actions were justified because he was merely acting in self-defense, but his following the driver to his house, pulling out a weapon, and getting into a fight over paint markings and scratches on his bumper shows that he was the aggressor.

Agreeing with the commission, the court found that the officer had several chances to step away from the heated situation and that the accident could’ve easily ended with an exchange of vehicle and insurance information. Instead, what started off as a simple fender bender, left one man in the hospital with a fractured nose, dislocated jaw, and concussion, while another—entrusted with protecting the community—lost his job.

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