Bunkie Council fires five police officers
Fri, 01/29/2016 - 05:00
instructs city attorney to pursue contempt of court charges
The battle between City Hall and City Police intensified last week when the Bunkie City Council fired five police officers and instructed the city attorney to file contempt charges against Police Chief Bobby Corner.
In a special meeting Jan. 19, the council voted 4-1 on both issues, with Councilman Lem Thomas maintaining his support of Corner’s position in the dispute with the council.
The main issue has centered around the certification of full-time and part-time police officers, and Corner’s refusal to recommend dismissal of those without proper certification.
The council got tired of waiting for a recommendation from the police chief and lowered the axe on its own.
The council discussed the issues in a 20-minute closed-door session with Mayor Mike Robertson and City Attorney Jim Lee.
Corner and his attorney, Clifton Spears of Alexandria, sat outside the meeting room and walked out when the two motions were approved.
The council’s first order of business was to authorize Lee to “file a rule for contempt against Chief of Police Bobby Corner for failure to provide ordered information on all police officers or recommend termination.”
Prior to a scheduled 12th Judicial District Court hearing Jan. 7, both parties had reached an apparent agreement to resolve the matter. District Judge Kerry Spruill insisted the agreement be read into the court record.
Under that accord, Corner was to provide the council with requested information at the Jan. 14 council meeting. The information included a list of full-time and part-time officers, designating the certifications of each officer and any required training not completed.
If an officer does not complete the certification requirements within an allowed time, Corner is supposed to recommend the City Council terminate employment of that officer.
Corner provided a list of officers and their certifications at the Jan. 14 meeting, but did not recommend termination of five officers who had not completed required training.
The second motion noted that since the police officers failed to comply with Louisiana law and/or the city’s insurance provider’s requirements, and because the police chief failed to follow the court order to recommend termination, the council was dismissing full-time officer Zachariah Guice and part-time officers Louatez Wilson, Torrick Friels, Cornell Walker and Bradley Armand.
“I hate letting people go, especially when its not their fault,” Councilman Greg Prudhomme said after the meeting. “They put their faith into their supervisor, who didn’t do what needed to be done. I had to do this with a heavy heart.”
Councilman Travis Armand echoed those sentiments, saying no one on the council wanted to terminate the officers, but the city has to protect itself from potential liability.
“It is with a heavy heart and great exasperation that we had to dismiss five Bunkie police officers,” Armand said. “Some in that number are outstanding officers. Their termination with the city was unavoidable, regretful and infuriating.”
Armand noted that because they did not meet certification requirements, they were uninsurable and “their continued employment put the city at risk of tremendous liability, which we could ill afford.”
Armand placed the blame squarely on Corner, saying the officers “were not at fault, but they paid the price for their chief’s negligence and inattentiveness -- as well as his providing them with false information.”
He said some of the officers said Corner had repeatedly reassured them that everything was in order.
“They were misled -- period,” Armand concluded.
Robertson said no one is pleased that the council had to take this action.
“All of this could have been avoided had the chief provided the information requested by the council,” Robertson said. “It’s been a waste of city resources, time and money that the city could not afford to spend.”
With the dismissals, Bunkie now has five full-time and nine part-time patrol officers, as well as two full-time and two part-time dispatchers in its police department. All current officers are either certified or within the one-year employment window in which to attain certification.