By David Hammer

June 30, 2023

NEW ORLEANS — The chairman of the board overseeing New Orleans’ 911 communications has called an emergency board meeting for next Thursday to discuss possible criminal allegations against the city’s 911 director, Tyrell Morris.

“The meeting will take place at OPCD board room to discuss the incident involving Director Tyrell Morris,” Orleans Parish Communication District Chairman John Thomas wrote Friday in an email to board members and city officials.

The incident Thomas referenced was a minor car crash Morris had in his OPCD take-home vehicle on May 7 at 10:40 p.m. But Morris suddenly announced his resignation Monday after the city inspector general requested interviews with OPCD staff about the incident. Later Monday, WWL-TV reported that records showed Morris changed an official policy four days after the accident to make it look like he didn’t have to submit to a drug and alcohol screening, even though the original policy said he did.

City Council members JP Morrell and Helena Moreno then asked the OPCD board to suspend Morris immediately, noting Morris may have committed a crime by altering public records. The inspector general seized Morris’ computer and phone. But when WWL-TV asked Thomas if he or the board would suspend Morris at a news conference Wednesday, he said he would wait for the IG investigation first.

In Friday’s email to board members, Thomas said he’s been conducting his own investigation.

“I have been investigating the matter and would like to present the information I have been able to uncover so far. This is separate from the IG investigation and the news stories. This is an independent fact-finding investigation and (I) would like you all to be updated on what has been taking place thus far,” Thomas wrote.

Rafael Goyeneche, president of the watchdog Metropolitan Crime Commission, said Thursday the OPCD should not be actively investigating the boss while he is still there, as it could intimidate potential fact witnesses and hinder the IG investigation.

Loyola Law Professor Blaine LeCesne told WWL-TV the documents show “egregious” violations of policy and possibly crimes by Morris, including what he called a “material misrepresentation” on a public record submitted to collect insurance money for the crash.

“It’s not the violation itself; it’s the attempt to cover it up,” LeCesne said. “That is the bigger offense and one that has criminal implications.”

Video of the traffic incident, provided to WWL-TV through a public records request, shows Morris’ black Ford Expedition waiting at a red light in the middle lane of Esplanade Avenue at Interstate 610, and a silver Chevy Impala waiting in the right lane. When the light turns green, the video shows Morris veered right into the right lane and hit the Impala. But Morris filled out an accident report and sketched a diagram of the crash falsely claiming the Impala came up behind him, swerved around him to the right and drove into him. The crash caused damage to the front right bumper of the OPCD vehicle.

Thomas’ email Friday is a public record and went to the 11 OPCD board members, the board’s attorney and several city, state and public health officials, including Mayor LaToya Cantrell. He concluded it by saying he “would like for only the board members to attend so we can go into executive session, but this is an FYI for the other individual(s) on this email.”

Under the state’s Open Meetings Law, all OPCD board meetings must be open to the public and must be publicly announced in advance. The board may go from a public meeting into a closed executive session to discuss investigations and personnel matters, but it must disclose the purpose of the closed session ahead of time and can’t take any action in executive session.