By Ramon Antonio Vargas | NOLA.com | October 1, 2021
For nearly two years, a key supervisor at the office that dispatches New Orleans’ first responders to 911 calls had access to a national criminal records database despite having a prior felony conviction that should have barred her from using it, the city’s Office of Inspector General announced Friday.
Wendy Ervin remains in her role at the Orleans Parish Communications District, though her access to the National Crime Information Center (NCIC) was revoked in February 2020, said a report from interim IG Ed Michel’s office.
In a statement, the communications district’s executive director said the database’s overseers knew about Ervin’s past and still cleared her for access.
“At no time did OPCD violate the existing regulations around NCIC access,” Tyrell Morris said. “Ms. Ervin has been an exemplary public safety employee during her time at OPCD and has been instrumental in our efforts to provide the people of New Orleans with emergency services when they need them most.”
Ervin pleaded guilty in federal court in March 2015 to a charge of conspiracy to commit wire fraud. She admitted that she got more than $17,000 in federal disaster relief by lying about working at a reception hall whose business was hurt by the 2010 BP oil spill, and she was sentenced to three years of probation.
While still serving her probation, Ervin in April 2016 was hired by the communications district, where she worked her way up to the rank of operations manager. The district in May 2018 gave her access to NCIC, where she could enter or search for information about stolen property, missing or wanted persons, domestic violence restraining orders, or those listed on the National Sex Offender Registry. She also could use the Louisiana Law Enforcement Telecommunications System, or LLETS, equipping her to verify vehicle registrations, driver’s license information and conduct criminal history checks.
The problem is that federal and local policies governing the use of NCIC, LLETS and other similar databases prohibit access to anyone with a felony conviction, said the report from Michel’s office. An anonymous tipster complained about Ervin to the Metropolitan Crime Commission, who forwarded the complaint to the inspector general’s office.
The report said that the office confirmed Ervin’s federal conviction as well as her use of the databases in question, so it notified the State Police, which is the agency that manages access to NCIC and LLETS. The State Police, along with the communications district, then cut off Ervin from the databases on Feb. 14, 2020.
Agencies can request an exception from those rules, citing the severity of the offense resulting in the felony conviction or the amount of time that has passed since it happened.
Morris made such a request on behalf of Ervin, citing her years of service to the agency as well as her compliance with all federal and local guidelines, but the State Police rejected it.
The inspector general’s report recommended that the communications district review its employment records to determine whether any other convicted felons are on staff. If there are any, their access to NCIC and LLETS should also be revoked, the report said.
An attorney for the district issued a reply to the report, and it was contained in the document released Friday.
Among other things, the reply from attorney Benjamin Chapman noted that Ervin disclosed her conviction, and the district notified the State Police about it. The State Police first “cleared Ervin for employment by OPCD” and then certified her to use NCIC and LLETS, said the reply, which criticized the inspector general’s investigation as “incomplete.”
“Ervin did not illegally or improperly access the NCIC/LLETS database,” Chapman’s reply said. “Nor are there any allegations that she did so.”