In re Appeal of Emerson Jackson and Travis Wheeler
Appealed from the 19th Judicial District Court In and for the
Parish of East Baton Rouge State of Louisiana Docket Number
659565 Honorable Wilson Fields, Judge Presiding
Anderson O. Dotson, III Kim L. Brooks Baton Rouge, LA Counsel
for Plaintiff/Appellant City of Baton Rouge and Parish of
East Baton Rouge
Brandon Kyle Kershaw Baton Rouge, LA Counsel for Defendants/
Appellees Emerson Jackson and Travis Wheeler
J. Falcon, Jr. Counsel for Defendant/Appellant Baton Rouge,
LA Municipal Fire and Police Civil Service Board
BEFORE: WHIPPLE, C.J., GUIDRY, AND CRAIN  , JJ.
City of Baton Rouge and Parish of East Baton Rouge (the City)
appeal a judgment of the district court, which reversed the
decision of the Municipal Fire and Police Civil Service Board
(the Board), upholding the termination of employment of
Emerson Jackson (Jackson) and Travis Wheeler (Wheeler) from
the Baton Rouge Police Department. After reviewing the facts
and applicable law, we convert the appeal to an application
for supervisory writs, and grant the writ.
AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY
March 26, 2014, Jackson and Wheeler, both officers with the
Baton Rouge Police Department, received pre-termination
letters as a result of an incident that allegedly occurred on
February 4, 2014. The letters summarized events that took
place that evening, which resulted in a complaint of sexual
assault being made against the officers, and triggered an
letters provided as follows. At approximately 9:00 p.m.,
Jackson, Wheeler, and a third officer not a party to this
proceeding, entered the BREC Park on Old Hammond Highway
where they encountered a young man and woman in a vehicle.
The officers asked the occupants of the vehicle to exit, and
separated them for questioning. Ultimately, the young man was
told to leave, and he did so on foot; the young woman
remained with the officers and her interrogation continued.
The third officer allegedly threatened the young woman with
vehicle impoundment and the arrest of her mother if she did
not agree to have sex with him, and under duress she agreed.
Jackson and Wheeler were present during this time, and
Jackson even positioned himself to see what occurred between
the victim and the other officer. The young man returned to
the park after receiving an explicit text message from the
young woman about what was to transpire, and upon re-entering
the park, Jackson and Wheeler stopped him before he made it
to the parked vehicles. The young man was told to leave the
park or face arrest.
letters further specifically noted that none of the officers
had their in-car cameras on during the time of the incident.
The letters concluded that Jackson and Wheeler had violated
certain policies provided in the Department's Policies
and Procedures Manual Disciplinary Code, Section XII,
"Disciplinary Articles," mainly subsections 0:0,
2:10, 3:17 and 3:23. The letters further stated that Wheeler
and Jackson's conduct also constituted reason for which
disciplinary action may be taken under the provisions of
LSA-R.S. 33:2500(A)(1), (2), and (3). These letters also
provided notice for a pre-termination hearing, and indicated
the sixty-day deadline for the administrative investigation
was April 5, 2014.
November 12, 2014, both Jackson and Wheeler received
correspondence notifying them that they were being placed on
paid administrative leave effective November 13, 2014, until
further notice. On November 13, 2014, both Jackson and
Wheeler again received pre-termination letters arising out of
the February 4, 2014 incident, which were almost identical to
the letters received on March 26, 2014, except that the new
letters contained one additional fact paragraph which
Further, on November 12, 2014 you were indicted by the Grand
Jury of the Parish of East Baton Rouge, State of Louisiana,
alleging that you committed the offense of abuse of office,
violating Louisiana [R]evised [S]tatutes Title 14, Article
these pre-termination letters added another department policy
violation found in Subsection 3:22, entitled, "Violation
of Laws," which provides "[n]o member will
willfully or by neglect or omission violate any Federal,
State or City ordinance or statu[t]e." The letters
concluded by providing that a pre-termination hearing would
be held the following day, November 14, 2014.
Jackson nor Wheeler appeared at the November 14, 2014
pre-termination hearing, and after reviewing the internal
investigations report, Chief of Police Carl Dabadie made the
decision to terminate the officers' employment. Jackson
and Wheeler received notice of their terminations in
correspondence dated November 17, 2014, which was nearly
identical to the November 13, 2014 pre-termination letters,
except to say that their employment had been terminated for
the reasons set forth in the previous letters.
officers appealed their terminations to the Board. In their
petitions, Jackson and Wheeler alleged that the decision to
terminate their employment was not made in good faith or for
cause, and was procedurally defective. They further denied
the allegations made against them in their termination
Board conducted a full evidentiary hearing on June 29, 2017
and June 30, 2017. After narrowing the scope of the hearing,
due to procedural issues, only evidence regarding whether the
officers "violated the law" was presented. The
Board proceeded to hear testimony from nine witnesses, and
had the testimony of another read into the record.
Board also received several exhibits into evidence, including
the cell phone records of the three officers involved, the
victim, and the young man, and an electronic timeline
created, in part, from all of these records, for their
consideration. Prior to ruling, one board member stated that
she believed, based on the information at his disposal,
"[the Chief] did act in good faith and for just
cause" in terminating Jackson and Wheeler's
employment and made a motion to uphold the terminations. A
second board member then stated,
I recognized that [counsel for Jackson and Wheeler] indicated
in his summation that there's been a profound effect upon
these two gentlemen's lives, but things like that happen
in the real world. But I do believe something happened in
that park and that there's a [cover-up] being held or
Perhaps there [were] some inconsistencies in the statements
of the two young people, but I think there were also
inconsistencies in the statements of the other witnesses,
especially the two officers, and based on that, I think the
Chief did make a decision that he thought was correct based
on the information that he had. And for that reason, I will
second the motion.
Board determined, by a four-to-one vote, to uphold the
terminations of Jackson and Wheeler.
and Wheeler filed a petition for judicial review of the
Board's decision in the Nineteenth Judicial District
Court on July 14, 2017. In the appeal, the officers alleged
that the Board's decision was not made in good faith and
for cause as it was contrary to the evidence produced at the
hearing of this matter and the applicable law, urging that
they could not be disciplined for criminal charges of which
they were acquitted.
March 7, 2018, the district court signed a judgment,
remanding the matter back to the Board and ordering "the
Board to give the accuseds proper notice as it relates to
Section 2501, the ten (10) day notice, to let them know the
time, place and the date of hearing;" and further
ordering "the Board to consider the verdict of the jury
that was rendered in the criminal trial, and for the Board to
articulate what laws Emerson Jackson or Travis Wheeler
violated and the reasons for the Board's decision. If the
Board determines that they should uphold the [C]hief s
termination, then articulate what laws have been
receiving the remand order from the district court, the Board
discussed the court's instructions and moved to formulate
a written response, incorporating those items requested by
the court and discussed by the Board. The Board provided to
the district court a "notice" asserting that it not
only gave Jackson and Wheeler ten days' notice of their
hearing, but in fact gave them thirty days advance notice, as
it granted a continuance for the hearing on May 30, 2017, and
scheduled the hearing for June 29, 2017.
Board also issued "findings" pursuant to the second
part of the district court's judgment, which included:
The appeal hearing proceeded on the charge of 3:22 Violation
of Laws and Violations of [LSA-]R.S. 33:2500(A)(1)(2) and
Three police units arrived at [the] BREC [P]ark on Old
Hammond Highway about the same time[, two of which were]
driven by Officers.. .Wheeler and Jackson.
A civilian vehicle was parked at this same BREC [P]ark.
The officers had the male and female occupants of the
civilian vehicle exit the vehicle but did not activate their
The officers obtained identification from the two occupants
and ran same and the license plate of the car and found no
All three officers were at the park for approximately 45
minutes with no cameras activated.
...[T]he male occupant of the civilian vehicle, after being
identified was ordered from the park and left on foot.
[The third officer] got in the back seat of [the
victim's] vehicle with her.
Both Wheeler and Jackson were out of their vehicles and were
standing in the vicinity of [the victim's] vehicle while
[the third officer] was in the ...