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Stephens v. New Orleans Police Department

Court of Appeals of Louisiana, Fourth Circuit

December 4, 2019

ARISTOTLE STEPHENS
v.
NEW ORLEANS POLICE DEPARTMENT

          APPEAL FROM CITY CIVIL SERVICE COMMISSION ORLEANS

          Kevin Vincent Boshea Attorney at Law COUNSEL FOR PLAINTIFF/APPELLANT.

          Elizabeth Robins Deputy City Attorney William R.H. Goforth Assistant City Attorney Donesia D. Turner Senior Chief Deputy City Attorney Sunni Lebeouf City Attorney COUNSEL FOR DEFENDANT/APPELLEE.

          Court composed of Judge Terri F. Love, Judge Joy Cossich Lobrano, Judge Tiffany G. Chase.

          Tiffany G. Chase, Judge.

         Officer Aristotle Stephens (hereinafter "Officer Stephens") seeks review of the April 23, 2019 ruling issued by the Civil Service Commission (hereinafter "the Commission"). The decision denied Officer Stephen's appeal and upheld the termination of his employment with the New Orleans Police Department (hereinafter "the NOPD"). After consideration of the record before this Court and the applicable law, we affirm the decision of the Commission terminating Officer Stephens' employment with the NOPD.

         Facts and Procedural History

         February 4, 2017 Incident

         On February 4, 2017, Officer Stephens was operating his patrol unit during a general overtime assignment. While on patrol, Officer Stephens observed a vehicle and attempted to execute a traffic stop.[1] When the vehicle came to a stop, Officer Stephens exited his patrol unit to approach the vehicle, at which point the driver hastily sped away. Officer Stephens returned to his patrol unit and pursued the vehicle with his patrol unit lights activated. While pursuing the vehicle, Officer Stephens contacted the NOPD dispatcher to advise that he was behind the vehicle. After providing the information, Officer Stephens contacted his supervisor and advised that he was "not chasing" the vehicle and was "veering off."

         However, Officer Stephens continued to pursue the vehicle. He turned down a different street, reactivated his patrol unit lights and proceeded down the wrong lane of traffic in order to return to Chef Menteur Highway. Officer Stephens proceeded eastbound on Chef Menteur Highway towards the Danziger Bridge. Through the body worn camera (hereinafter "BWC") video footage, Officer Stephens is heard talking on his cellular phone with an unidentified female. He states "what they don't know is that I'm still behind that fool." The unidentified female asks Officer Stephens why he was still behind the vehicle, to which he replied "because you don't run from Aristotle."

         Officer Stephens stops his patrol unit in the median on Chef Menteur Highway. He then recognizes the vehicle and is heard on the BWC video footage stating "there he go, there he go." Officer Stephens proceeds to follow the vehicle over the Danziger Bridge with the lights on his patrol unit activated. Officer Stephens and the vehicle then enter westbound on Interstate-10. The vehicle then cuts across all three lanes of traffic and is involved in a collision with another vehicle. Officer Stephens verbally reacts to the collision, does not stop and proceeds to travel westbound on Interstate-10. As he is traveling, Officer Stephens contacts the NOPD dispatcher to inquire as to whether or not she can identify his location in an attempt to conceal the fact that he had been in continued pursuit of the vehicle.

         NOPD Investigation

         Sergeant Trinell Franklin (hereinafter "Sgt. Franklin"), with the Public Integrity Bureau (hereinafter "PIB"), initiated the disciplinary investigation into Officer Stephens' actions after speaking with witnesses at the scene of the collision. Witnesses advised Sgt. Franklin that an NOPD patrol unit was pursuing the vehicle at the time of the collision. As part of her initial investigation, Sgt. Franklin viewed Officer Stephens' BWC and the mobile video unit (hereinafter "MVU") cameras[2] located inside Officer Stephens' patrol unit. As a result of Sgt. Franklin's preliminary investigation, Officer Stephens was reassigned pending a full investigation.

         On June 1, 2017, Officer Stephens provided an administrative statement to Sergeant Kimberly Hunt (hereinafter "Sgt. Hunt")[3] of PIB's criminal investigation team. Sgt. Hunt reviewed all available video footage of the incident, which included Officer Stephens' BWC and MVU cameras. At the conclusion of the investigation, Sgt. Hunt found that Officer Stephens violated NOPD Rule 2 regarding honesty and truthfulness.[4] She determined that Officer Stephens was untruthful by willfully and negligently providing false and misleading statements. Sgt. Hunt concluded that the BWC and MVU video footage contradicted ...


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