June 22, 2023
Written by: FOX 8 Staff
NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) – A New Orleans police officer who has been at the center of an internal investigation has returned to his duty on the mayor’s executive protection team.
At a press conference Thursday afternoon, Mayor LaToya Cantrell got out of her SUV, greeted by Officer Jeffrey Vappie.
“Stunning. I think it’s an indication of how dysfunctional the executive team is and how the mayor is basically controlling the police department,” said Rafael Goyeneche, head of the Metropolitan Crime Commission.
Cantrell never announced publicly that Vappie was back on her team, until they were spotted together at the event. Fox 8 reporter Meg Gatto questioned his presence.
https://4ca963bdb0c566721cd80d6c2ae78fa8.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-40/html/container.html ”The investigation into Officer Vappie has come to completion and as it relates to that, reprimands have been delivered and yes, Officer Vappie has been reinstated to resume his position as a part of my executive team,” Cantrell said.
“The fact that Officer Vappie is back on her assignment, is, I think, a black eye for her, the people of the City of New Orleans, and the police department,” Goyeneche said.
Vappie was the subject of a series of Lee Zurik investigations highlighting the hours he spent, both on and off duty, with the mayor inside the city-owned Upper Pontalba apartment.
The NOPD’s Public Integrity Bureau opened an investigation following the revelations. The investigation ultimately sustained three violations committed by Vappie, and a city attorney said Wednesday that a “letter of reprimand” was issued to Vappie.
While the NOPD’s Public Integrity Bureau investigation ended with two letters of reprimand for Vappie, the federal consent decree monitors blasted the NOPD’s investigation, saying it was tainted from the start.
They say they found nine violations of the consent decree policy with the PIB investigation. Violations included not interviewing Mayor Cantrell and not looking into alleged payroll fraud for Vappie.
https://4ca963bdb0c566721cd80d6c2ae78fa8.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-40/html/container.html Goyeneche says the fact that two members of the executive protection team didn’t want Vappie to come back, should be reason alone to keep him off the assignment. Those sentiments were expressed in leaked audio recordings obtained by Fox 8 in March of police interviews with other members of the executive protection team.
On the tapes, a PIB investigator asked another member of Cantrell’s security team, Officer Robert Monlyn, if Vappie should be reinstated.
“I don’t think so. No,” Monlyn says.
“Why not?” the interviewer presses.
https://4ca963bdb0c566721cd80d6c2ae78fa8.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-40/html/container.html “It’s a bad look,” Monlyn explains. “Just looks bad.”
When asked to whom, Monlyn replies “everybody.”
“Two of the four executive protection team members gave testimony condemning his unprofessional relationship with the mayor and if they’re still on that task force, working with him after they gave statements about him and the mayor… I think that’s a toxic work environment and I can’t fathom what it’s like working there,” Goyeneche said.
https://4ca963bdb0c566721cd80d6c2ae78fa8.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-40/html/container.html “You have an officer who has been investigated several times, raised a lot of controversy. It’s going to draw a lot of extra attention, a lot of extra questions to the mayor,” said Robert Collins, a political analyst and professor at Dillard University. “Because of the very sensitive nature of the allegations against this officer, I think it would have been best for NOPD to put him on a different assignment for now.”
Collins said the reinstatement could cause trouble for Cantrell if there are any other ongoing investigations of Vappie by outside law enforcement agencies.
“Because there are allegations of payroll fraud, there’s a fairly high probability that other law enforcement agencies are investigating this officer,” he said. “If you have the US Department of Justice, the local US Attorney’s Office, the FBI conducting investigations into payroll fraud, at some point in time those investigations could become public and then it becomes even more of a distraction.”
Rafael Goyeneche, head of the Metropolitan Crime Commission, says the fact that two executive protection team members didn’t want Vappie to come back should be reason alone to keep him off the assignment. We heard those sentiments in audio recordings we obtained in March of police interviews with other executive protection team members.
https://4ca963bdb0c566721cd80d6c2ae78fa8.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-40/html/container.html “Two of the four executive protection team members gave testimony condemning his unprofessional relationship with the mayor and if they’re still on that task force, working with him, after they gave statement about him and the mayor, “said Goyeneche. “I think that’s a toxic work environment and I can’t fathom what it’s like working there.”1:07
Federal monitors overseeing the NOPD’s consent decree blasted the investigation, claiming the investigation was tainted from the start.
NOPD Interim Police Supt. Michelle Woodfork released a statement Thursday afternoon saying:“The New Orleans Police Department has adopted a system of best practices by assembling a panel, consisting of three senior level managers, to examine the facts and procedures of each formal disciplinary investigation and provide a final recommendation of their findings. The panel convened for this disciplinary hearing consisted of three senior level individuals with more than 70 years of NOPD experience. This panel is highly versed in NOPD policy and procedure and utilized their knowledge and experience to weigh the facts and circumstances of this detailed investigation. As with all sustained disciplinary investigations, appropriate disciplinary action followed. I would like to assure the public that the process of fair and consistent discipline is a staple of this administration, and that the NOPD will continue to evaluate each allegation brought before us with the highest levels of professional standards. As such, I agreed with the recommendations of the panel regarding the facts and circumstances presented in this case. My decision stands firm. As to Officer Jeffrey Vappie’s assignment, according to the disciplinary matrix the sustained violations were minor in nature; therefore, Officer Vappie was returned to his previous assignment on the mayor’s executive protection team. Officer Vappie’s return to his former duties is consistent with what occurs with any officer whose disciplinary action has concluded with minor departmental infractions. Moreover, as a result of this investigation, I have charged our Professional Standards & Accountability Bureau with authoring an executive protection policy which includes input from both DOJ and the monitoring team. This policy, along with standard operating procedures which are currently being drafted, will establish clear expectations for members of the Executive Protection Team.”