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Bell v. Department of Police

Court of Appeals of Louisiana, Fourth Circuit

March 22, 2017

KEYALAH BELL
v.
DEPARTMENT OF POLICE

         APPEAL FROM CITY CIVIL SERVICE COMMISSION ORLEANS NO. 8047

          Kevin V. Boshea ATTORNEY AT LAW COUNSEL FOR PLAINTIFF/APPELLANT, KEYALAH BELL

          Elizabeth S. Robins ASSISTANT CITY ATTORNEY Isaka Rachell Williams ASSISTANT CITY ATTORNEY Cherrell S. Taplin SENIOR CHIEF DEPUTY CITY ATTORNEY Rebecca H. Dietz CITY ATTORNEY COUNSEL FOR DEFENDANT/APPELLEE, DEPARTMENT OF POLICE

          Court composed of Chief Judge James F. McKay, III, Judge Edwin A. Lombard, Judge Marion F. Edwards, Pro Tempore

          Marion F. Edwards, Pro Tempore Judge

         Plaintiff/Appellant, Keyalah Bell, appeals a ruling of the Civil Service Commission denying the appeal of her termination as a police officer with the City of New Orleans. For the following reasons, we affirm.

         FACTS

         In July of 2012, the New Orleans Department of Police terminated Officer Bell following a disciplinary investigation that determined that she was driving while intoxicated, crashed into a parked vehicle, fled the scene of the accident, and returned only after the owner of the damaged vehicle tracked her down. On July 2, 2013, the Civil Service Commission granted Officer Bell's appeal, and overturned the New Orleans Department of Police's termination decision based solely on the Department's failure to complete its disciplinary investigation within the sixty-day time period set forth under La. R.S. 40:2531(B)(7). However, this Court, in Kayalah Bell v. Department of Police, 13-1529 (La.App. 4 Cir. 5/21/14), reversed the ruling of the Civil Service Commission, which relied upon La. R.S.40:2531[1] (B)(7) as its basis for granting Officer Bell's appeal and remanded this matter to the Civil Service Commission to address the merits of Officer Bell's appeal. This Court previously set forth the facts as follows:

Officer Keyalah Bell, was arrested in the early morning hours of May 6, 2011, for driving while intoxicated in violation of La. R.S. 14:98, and for hit and run driving, in violation La. R.S. 14:100. At the time of the incident, Bell was employed by the New Orleans Department of Police (hereinafter also referred to as "Department") as a police officer with permanent status. It is undisputed that she had been drinking prior to the time that she crashed her personal vehicle into a parked car owned by Jocelyn Owens. Witnesses were interviewed and reported that Officer Bell initially left the scene of the accident, and returned only after Ms. Owens located her a few blocks away and asked her to return. One of Ms. Owens' neighbors, Cheryl Vernado, specifically recalled observing Officer Bell exit her vehicle, inspect the damage while holding her mouth, get back into her vehicle, and drive away. In addition, the officer who arrived on the scene detected a strong odor of alcohol emitting from Officer Bell's breath.
The Department avers that an administrative investigation was launched and that field sobriety and breathalyzer tests were administered because Officer Bell initially refused to submit to a breathalyzer test as part of the criminal investigation. At the time the tests were performed, Officer Bell's blood alcohol content level was determined to be 0.153g% - nearly twice the legal limit. The Department's Form DI-1, entitled "Initiation of a Formal Disciplinary Investigation, " was completed on May 9, 2011; however, the Department maintains that the administrative investigation did not continue until Officer Bell received a nolle prosequi from traffic court on October 3, 2011. Thereafter, the Department's investigator requested and received a 60-day extension of time to complete the investigation. The investigation was completed on November 9, 2011.
During the course of the investigation, Officer Bell gave an administrative statement admitting that her consumption of alcoholic beverages impaired her ability to drive. In the statement, Officer Bell admitted to going out and drinking with friends. On the way home, she said she was involved in an accident and hit her head. Officer Bell denied fleeing the scene and rather stated that she pulled over and stopped at the location where her vehicle rested. She also claimed to have no recollection of how her car ended up two blocks away.
Office Bell received a disciplinary letter from Department Superintendent Ronel W. Serpas dated July 31, 2012, advising that the Department's internal investigation determined that she violated Rule 2: Moral Conduct, paragraph 1 - Adherence to Law to wit: La. R.S. 14:100 relative to Hit and Run. Rule 2 states:
Employees shall act in accordance with the constitutions, statutes, ordinances, administrative regulations, and the official interpretations thereof, of the United States, the State of Louisiana, and the City of New Orleans. . . . Neither ignorance of the law, its interpretations, nor failure to be physically arrested and charged, shall be regarded as a valid defense against the requirements of this rule.
Based on her statement, the Department also concluded that Officer Bell's conduct violated Rule 3: Professional Conduct, paragraph 9, Use of Alcohol/Drugs Off Duty ...

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