JENNINGS, LA (KPLC) - The fate of a former Jennings Police officer continues to be decided. A civil service board hearing on the firing of Lieutenant Mike Janise started at five o'clock Monday evening.
Janise was fired after he allegedly failed to give superior officer Craig Billodeaux a sobriety test following a crash after a Christmas party in the early morning hours of Sunday December 19, 2010. Billodeaux was demoted from captain to lieutenant in connection with the case after an internal investigation.
When it comes to disciplinary matters in law enforcement, this type of hearing is a right all officers have. It just so happens Lt. Janise serves on the civil service board. Before they could hear his case he had to recuse himself from the board.
Jennings City Attorney Kevin Millican initiated opening arguments: "You're going to hear evidence about what happened in the early morning hours of Sunday December 19th. You'll hear things that were done and things that weren't done. The main thing that wasn't done - a standard field sobriety test," said Millican.
Janise's defense attorney Ric Oustalet, Jr. argued he was wrongfully terminated. "This is about an officer who has dedicated 17 years to his job. This is his life and his career," said Oustalet.
The first witness to take the stand was newly appointed Jennings Police Chief Todd D'Albor. According to D'Albor, Billodeaux called him the night of the accident and said he had done something "stupid." D'Albor said Billodeaux told him he spun his wheels upon leaving and peeled out and ended up hitting a parked vehicle in the private parking lot. Janise was the investigating officer on the scene but did not conduct a field sobriety test. D'Albor said he met with both men Monday morning.
"I asked Billodeaux if he was drunk and he said he had some drinks but had lost count," said D'Albor. "I also talked with Lt. Janise. When I asked him about Billodeaux's condition he said without repeating the word: 'He was effed up."
After gathering the information, D'Albor decided to ask for an internal investigation. He asked retired officer and former Chief Steve Taylor to conduct the investigation. After further questioning, inconstancies developed in Janise's account of what happened that night. According to Taylor's interview, Janise said Billodeaux did not appear intoxicated.
D'Albor said after given an opportunity to clear up the inconsistencies, Janise was given a polygraph test. Though not admissible in court, D'Albor - certified in giving polygraph tests in the state of Louisiana - determined that the results showed Janise had been dishonest.
The defense argued the phrase "effed up" could be open to interpretation. The defense also asked D'Albor if he was at the party and had he talked with Billodeaux at any point in the night. D'Albor said, "I was at the party. I did talk to Billodeaux early in the night and at that time he did not seem drunk."
Oustalet continued firing questions and suggested that officers have discretion when making traffic stops and issuing citations. "In this case Lt. Janise used his discretion and was terminated for it," said Oustalet.
Oustalet also argued that Janise should have been read his bill of rights that following Monday and that the internal investigation should not have started three days after the accident. D'Albor claims as a supervisor he was gathering facts to determine the appropriate route to take.
Despite the recommendation by the internal investigation to demote Janise, D'Albor terminated him based on the evidence and a phone call by Rhonda Gary - the woman whose vehicle was broad-sided. According to D'Albor Gary was concerned special treatment was being given because an officer was involved.
"When I took office, I made a promise to this community to return integrity to the Jennings Police Department. Without integrity we don't have a leg to stand on. I stand by my decision. He neglected his duties as an officer" said D'Albor.
Chief D'Albor was questioned for more than three hours. A second witness was interviewed. With several more witnesses to take the stand, the board decided to take a recess until Thursday at 2 p.m.