By Lee Zurik and Ken Daley / Fox 8 / May. 13, 2024 

NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) – Mayor LaToya Cantrell’s request for a restraining order against a citizen who has photographed her in public with her former police bodyguard is a “pathetic” attempt to deflect attention from her own questionable actions, a crime watchdog said Monday (May 13).

“This, I think, is a classic case of the mayor feeling desperate, and retaliating to send a message to this person and anyone else that would dare take a picture of her in public,” Metropolitan Crime Commission president Rafael Goyeneche said.

The woman who last month provided the photo of the mayor dining on a French Quarter restaurant balcony with Jeffrey Vappie — while the NOPD officer was on the clock, billing taxpayers for police work — has been accused of harassment.

Cantrell alleged in a handwritten civil court filing last Friday that, “The defendant aggressively photographed and harassed her while having lunch on a restaurant balcony.”

The woman is not a “defendant,” as she has not been charged with any crime.

“This is a joke,” Goyeneche said. “I mean, it’s really a pathetic attempt to try and deflect attention away from what (Cantrell) did. So, this is about the mayor, not about the person that took the picture.”

In her court petition, Cantrell alleges “the defendant went out of her way to be certain I felt her presence and to notice that she was capturing countless photos of me.”

“Well, in this particular case, she didn’t follow the mayor,” Goyeneche said. “She didn’t attend uninvited, the dinner that the mayor was captured eating on the balcony. And so the victim in this is the picture-taker. And the only thing she did was she walked out on the balcony of her residence and saw the mayor and Officer Vappie eating lunch at a restaurant on the balcony.

“If you notice, you take a look at that picture (from April 7), that was straight across. This wasn’t taken from the streets. She had no idea the mayor and Officer Vappie were eating on the balcony of that restaurant, until she walked outside of her apartment inside and took a picture.”

Cantrell also alleges the photos “were made available to us at Fox 8 News, as she has consistently done over the past two years.” But Fox 8 has never met with or spoken to the woman, nor received a photo directly from her.

Fox 8 has received photos of Vappie and the mayor from other sources, such as one taken by another person that appears to show them enjoying wine together at the bar of the French Quarter steakhouse Doris Metropolitan, again while Vappie was on the clock for the NOPD.

Each of the photos has resulted in a complain to the NOPD from the Metropolitan Crime Commission. Vappie has been reassigned from the mayor’s executive protection detail while the complaints are under investigation.

Cantrell also said in her court filing that, “The defendant has been the source of over 800 hours of video that has been used to attack” her.

The Fox 8 “Outside the Office” investigation utilized hundreds of hours of video that documented time the mayor spent with Vappie inside the city-owned Upper Pontalba apartment, sometimes during the work day. But the video used in the investigation did not come from the woman. It was obtained from a public camera belonging to the French Market Corporation through a public records request.

“Some of the the information here is totally, factually incorrect,” Goyeneche said of Cantrell’s court filing. “She’s alleging that the person that took the picture on April 7 filmed 800 hours of video coming and going from the Pontalba apartment. Everybody in the city of New Orleans knows that Fox 8 got that information from the French Market Corporation, in the camera that was set up right outside the mayor’s (former apartment).

“That was the French Market Corporation’s video camera footage that prove the comings and goings of the mayor and Officer Vappie. So, this is really factually incorrect, and really a pathetic attempt by the mayor to send a message to this person and anyone else that, ‘If you do, I’m going to push back.’ And she’s using the legal system as a weapon.

Cantrell signed the court petition last Friday, asserting that all of its “facts” were correct. Her signed witness was her Chief of Staff in City Hall — Clifton Davis — who had his law license suspended last December for professional misconduct as an attorney in his private practice outside of City Hall.

“So this is, I think, purely retaliatory,” Goyeneche said. “Because in this petition, the mayor is saying that this person, this victim, has been stalking the mayor for two years. What are the complaints that have been filed? Has Officer Vappie, who’s her protector, has he written any incident reports about threats to the mayor offered by this person or anybody else?”

The federal government is currently investigating the mayor and Vappie. Part of that investigation is looking at whether their relationship is personal, and whether Vappie has billed taxpayers for work he didn’t do.

Attorney and Fox 8 legal analyst Joe Raspanti said he thinks the mayor’s assertions will be difficult to substantiate.

“She’s claiming on April 7, this woman harassed her. If on that date she was being harassed, shouldn’t Officer Vappie, who was on duty, have taken care of it that day?” Raspanti said. “That, again, is going to be an issue for the trier of fact (in court). You would think that if he is on duty to protect the mayor of the City of New Orleans, and someone is harassing … and that’s a big question. I don’t think taking a picture of someone from far away is harassment. But, if that were deemed that way, the question would be, ‘Does he then, should he have taken it on his duty to go deal with the woman?

“And if he did not, what does that imply?”

Raspanti said, to federal investigators, it might imply a dinner like this was not professional.

“It may indicate more of a personal than a professional relationship on that particular date,” Raspanti said. “That will go to the trier of fact — the jury — to decide on that particular issue.”

Vappie has been reassigned for a second time while under NOPD investigation for his conduct with the mayor. Goyeneche said he believes that provided the mayor’s motive for Friday’s court filing.

“The mayor, I think, felt that this person was responsible for her officer being removed from the executive protection team,” he said. “So, this is the only thing that you could do, because there wasn’t any criminal case. There was no stalking. There was no her following the mayor around, just like every other picture. They are happenstance. People just happen to be there, they recognize her and they take a picture.”

Judge Paulette Irons approved a 10-day temporary restraining order preventing contact between the woman and the mayor. A hearing on the mayor’s protective order request has been set for May 20, before Civil District Court Judge Bernadette D’Souza.