By Lee Zurik & Dannah Sauer | WVUE | February 2, 2023
NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) – On Wednesday, Sept. 7 at 6:27 p.m., a public security camera mounted outside the city-owned Upper Pontalba Apartments shows New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell arrive at the apartment. Minutes later, the camera recorded her on the balcony, talking to NOPD officer Jeffrey Vappie. Cantrell and Vappie spent the next few hours inside the apartment. During that time, Vappie, as well as two other NOPD officers were being paid by taxpayers to protect the mayor.
That morning, Cantrell arrived at the apartment at 7:34 a.m. She left about an hour later, walking alone in workout clothes toward the Mississippi River. At 9:11 a.m., she returned to the apartment. At 11:04 a.m., she left the city-owned apartment shortly after her first scheduled meeting of the day was supposed to start.
Each time she came and went, the camera showed she was alone. However, that same morning, every one of the four law enforcement officers tasked with protecting the mayor was on the clock.
NOPD Officer Robert Monlyn’s timesheet for that day shows he clocked hours from 6:25 a.m. until 11 p.m.
Orleans Parish Sheriff’s Deputy Charles Ellis clocked in at 7 a.m. and clocked out at 3 p.m.
Vappie charged taxpayers from 8 a.m. until 8 p.m., and NOPD Officer Louis Martinez claimed hours from 9 a.m. until 9 p.m.
That evening, Vappie arrived at the apartment at 5:15 p.m. Mayor Cantrell arrived more than an hour later, and the two stayed inside the apartment until after 11 p.m. when Cantrell again eventually left alone.
For that day, the city paid the officers tasked with protecting the mayor for a total of 48 hours of work, while the security camera showed the mayor came and went from the apartment alone. FOX 8 has asked the city for information about what the officers do while on the clock, but the city has refused to give details about their work.
The findings led NOPD watchdog Skip Gallagher to question if the officers are actually working for the long hours they’re billing the city for.
“This is what screamed at me. This is absolutely not a great use of resources,” Gallagher said. “And it is extremely difficult to explain how you could have four officers dedicated to the same period of time when the mayor is not very busy that day. And what would these officers possibly be doing?”
Concerns over the timesheets also led Gallagher to file a complaint against the three NOPD officers on Cantrell’s team.
“This is why I filed a complaint. Hopefully, this will be investigated thoroughly. And they will find out where these officers were [and] what they were doing,” Gallagher said.
The NOPD told FOX 8 the officers are assigned full-time to provide security for the mayor and don’t perform any other duties for the department. FOX 8 reviewed more than 1,000 hours of video from the public security camera outside the Upper Pontalba apartments and compared hundreds of pages of security payroll records to Mayor Cantrell’s official schedule. We found that while the officers clocked hundreds of hours, they were sometimes nowhere near Cantrell.
On Monday, Aug. 22, 2022, Mayor Cantrell spent the entire day in Washington D.C. for a meeting with the Department of Justice. Officer Vappie was the only security listed on her schedule that day and accompanied Cantrell on the trip.
But back in New Orleans, the city still paid two other officers to protect the mayor, despite the fact that she was more than 1,000 miles away. Officer Monlyn clocked that he worked from 8 a.m. until 8 p.m., and Deputy Ellis logged hours from 10 a.m. until 10 p.m. Together, they billed taxpayers for 24 hours of work, while the person they’re paid to protect was out of town.
Dillard University political analyst, Dr. Robert Collins, questions whether this is the best use of resources, given the manpower crisis the NOPD has been facing for years.
“So, I think this is a question we have to ask, whether or not this is the optimal use of crime fighters and of crimefighting resources,” Collins said.
Prior FOX 8 investigations looked into Vappie’s timesheets, possible payroll fraud, and a potentially-improper relationship with Cantrell. He was removed from Cantrell’s security team, and the NOPD launched an investigation into his timesheets. Deputy Charles Ellis retired from the Orleans Parish Sheriff’s office in January. Monlyn and Martinez remain on her security team.
FOX 8 also compared Cantrell’s security team to that of former Mayor Mitch Landrieu. Landrieu’s calendar shows that on most days, just one security officer was assigned to protect him. Cantrell’s schedule shows she often has three or four officers assigned to protect her.
“We want the mayor to be safe. We want them to be protected. We want the mayor to have security. That’s not the issue here,” said Collins. “But I think the question is, what amount of security is necessary to protect the mayor?”
Collins says providing executive protection is different than policing and believes outsourcing the mayor’s security might make the most sense. He points to the current police shortage and says the department could benefit from having all officers available to work to solve crimes.
The city wouldn’t tell FOX 8 who sets the officers’ schedules, and the NOPD would only say a sergeant signs off on the timesheets. Collins says the lack of transparency is concerning.
“So here we have public employees, apparently, they have a supervisor somewhere,” Collins said. “Who’s the sergeant who’s signing off in these timesheets? We don’t know who this supervisor is because it’s a secret supervisor … You know, why don’t we know who’s signing off on these timesheets?”
On Saturday, Oct. 1, Mayor Cantrell’s calendar only listed one public event, a Citizens Police Academy graduation which started at noon. Two officers, Monlyn and Martinez were on her schedule, but Vappie also claimed to work that day. Vappie clocked in at 5 a.m. and claimed he worked a 15-hour day. Monlyn claimed to work from 7 a.m. until 11 p.m., and Martinez claimed he worked from 9 a.m. until 9 p.m.
All totaled, the security team was paid for 43 hours of work on a day when Cantrell had only one scheduled public appearance.
On Sept. 13, security camera video from outside the Upper Pontalba apartment shows Cantrell arrived just after 5 p.m. While she walked to the apartment alone, at that same time, taxpayers were paying all four security team members to protect the mayor.
Vappie showed up at the apartment about an hour and a half after the mayor. He entered, and minutes later was on the balcony in different clothes, watering the plants. He then spent much of the evening with Cantrell inside the apartment. During that time, two additional officers remained on the clock.
Vappie and Monlyn both claimed to work 8 a.m. until 8 p.m. that day. Martinez put 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. on his timesheet, and Ellis claimed to work 7 a.m. until 7 p.m.
FOX 8 also found two instances where Cantrell brought police protection on personal trips outside the state. In September 2021, she traveled to Birmingham, Alabama for the funeral of a relative. Records show Monlyn and Vappie accompanied Cantrell on the trip. They left the afternoon of Thursday, Sept. 23. Both Vappie and Monlyn billed taxpayers for 16 hours of work that day.
When they returned the next day, Monlyn billed for 12 hours, while Vappie billed for 13. Rafael Goyeneche with the Metropolitan Crime Commission questions why Mayor Cantrell would need to bring security to a family event.
“Why do you need to bring one security guard, much less two, to a weekend trip for a family event? This is private. This is a personal trip that she went on. This wasn’t official city business. So why does she need to bring not one, but two of her security detail officers with her to drive her to and from that location?” Goyeneche asked.
Mayor Cantrell’s calendar shows she’s taken several personal trips in the past few years. However, records FOX 8 received from the city show she only brought security on two of them.
Along with the funeral, Cantrell brought Vappie to an event in Montgomery, Alabama which honored her cousin. For that trip, taxpayers paid for Vappie’s hotel room and meals. No expenses for Cantrell were covered by the city.
“Essentially, what it was, was a chauffeur driving her from New Orleans to personal family events in Alabama on two different occasions,” said Goyeneche.
Goyeneche says while there are times when the mayor would need protection out of town, her safety would likely not be in jeopardy at family functions and awards ceremonies.
“If she’s going to a family event, she’s not under any risk of being targeted for any type of violence or protests. You have video of her coming and going from the Pontabla building, where she is known in the city of New Orleans, and she’s walking to and from with no security. Many times, in the city of New Orleans, she drives herself around and is not accompanied by security,” Goyeneche said.
On Sept. 19, 2021, Cantrell had nothing on her calendar. Still, Vappie went on the clock at 7 a.m. and claimed to work 24 straight hours. He clocked out at 7 a.m. the next day, but only stayed off the clock for one hour. He clocked back in at 8 a.m. and claimed to work until 11 p.m. that night. Monlyn claimed to work 12 hours on Sept. 19.
On Sept. 20, Monlyn claimed to work 8 a.m. until 11 p.m. and Ellis clocked time from 8 a.m. until 4 p.m. That day, Cantrell had a handful of meetings on her calendar that started at 10 a.m. and ended by 4 p.m.
Goyeneche says the records show the city needs to do a better job of scheduling security for the mayor.
FOX 8 reached out to Cantrell’s office several times with questions about her schedule and the schedule of her security team. In November 2021, her communications director Gregory Joseph released a statement that said, in part, “While we do not comment on the Mayor’s executive protection policies and protocols, we do attest to the fact that Officer Vappie and all members of the mayor’s executive protection team personify the level of devotion expected and required as a public servant to the City of New Orleans. We acknowledge their sacrifice and honor their service.”