Minden Press-Herald

Wednesday
Oct 01st

Court: He can stay; no back pay

State high court allows Bossier officer to keep job

vernonThe Louisiana Supreme Court is allowing a Bossier City police officer to keep his job but without back pay.

Reportedly, Phillip Vernon was suspended in 2009 when a Bossier Police Department internal investigation took place following the arrest of Webster Parish Assistant District Attorney Sherb Sentell at a local casino.

Vernon was placed on administrative leave, while reserve officer Jared Fisher was fired after an investigation determined the two filed a false police report in which they indicated Sentell threatened their jobs with the department and tried to use his position to avoid arrest.

The two allegedly told their captain that Sentell had "made numerous threats to sue them and adversely affect their employment with the police department by 'using his political influence if he were arrested.'"

According to a police report, "They (officers) also indicated these threats had been made as they were transporting Mr. Sentell, and his statements had been recorded by Officer Vernon's in-car video system."

In 2009, Webster-Bossier Parish District Attorney Schuyler Marvin said Bossier officers brought the in-car tape-recorded conversation to his residence.

"It was obvious there was never any threat (toward the officers' jobs) as one might make if they intended to use their position as was indicated in their report. Their report was not at all supported by the actual tape," Marvin said at the time.

He added that comments made by Sentell and the officers were not always appropriate, but there are questions whether Sentell's comments could be considered public intimidation.

Sentell was arrested at Horseshoe Casino in Bossier City at 1 a.m. October 4, 2009 on charges of domestic battery on his wife and public intimidation.

The actions that led to Sentell's arrest for battery were recorded on casino security cameras.

Vernon's dismissal was appealed to the city's police and fire civil service board, which in February, 2010 determined then-police chief Mike Halphen lacked "just cause" for the firing and reinstated Vernon.

The officer was suspended for 90 days without pay retroactive to the date he was fired. The Louisiana State Supreme Court upheld that ruling Tuesday, and Vernon will not receive back pay.

The battle reportedly continued when Vernon and the city appealed the board's decision to Bossier District Court, then the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeal, both of which upheld the board's action.

The case then advanced to the Supreme Court, which unanimously agreed the board was within its rights to reinstate Vernon and adjust the police chief's disciplinary action.

All 2009 charges against Sentell were dropped.

 

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