There was sometimes heated testimony and argument from lawyers in the ongoing civil service hearing for former Lake Charles Deputy Police Chief T. J. Bell.
Those testifying included Bell's former administrative assistant and records clerk Janine Blaney and retired Captain Arnold Bellow.
Blaney is charged with payroll fraud because an investigation concluded she was paid for hours she didn't work. Bell is charged with malfeasance in office because the investigation found he allowed it to happen.
However, the civil service hearing is to determine whether Bell was unjustly fired from his job at LCPD.
Attorney Billy Loftin is defending the city's actions in terminating Bell. He asked Blaney numerous questions aimed at pointing out inconsistencies between previous statements she's made and her testimony during the hearing. Blaney testified she always worked hours for which she was paid. Blaney testified no one told her her time sheet should accurately reflect the hours she worked.
On the stand, Blaney admitted she would sometimes help Bell with his homework at work.
Loftin also asked her numerous questions about her overtime and hours worked — questions aimed at attacking her credibility and truthfulness.
Blaney testified she gave some records pertaining to leave to Bellow which apparently didn't make it into her personnel file.
Blaney said both Bell and Bellow knew when she was coming into work and that she was not required to wear her uniform to work. Blaney stood firm saying her "flex time" was initially authorized by Police Chief Don Dixon. The "flex time" allowed her to go to school and make up hours she missed during the regular work day, she said. Under cross examination by Bell's attorney Todd Clemons, Blaney denied she ever received special treatment. She said it was Bellow's job to approve daily attendance records, not Bell.
Blaney also testified that Bell never did anything illegal or unethical. Clemons also brought out honors and accolades in her personnel file.
Later, when Bellow took the stand, the former captain indicated Blaney's conduct was entirely between her and Bell and that he refused to accept any blame.
Bellow testified that overtime at LCPD was based on the honor system and repeatedly emphasized Blaney always reported to Bell. Bellow said how Blaney dressed was also between her and Bell and that other female clerks wore uniforms.
Bellow said Blaney needed to work overtime because at one point all clerks were on vacation at once and they were backed up. However, he said he made it clear to Bell what was going on wasn't good and that he wasn't going to get in trouble for Bell.
The board also heard a conversation between Sgt. Richard Harrell and Bellow. Bellow said the call was recorded without his knowledge or consent. Harrell conducted the criminal investigation into Blaney's conduct. On the recording, Harrell tells Bellow, "Blaney is toast for all the hours she claims but didn't work." Harrell also explains they had Blaney under surveillance to determine if she was working hours she put down.
Also on the recording, Bellow tells Harrell he was in a bad spot because Bell was deputy chief. Bellow tells Harrell, on tape, he never did anything illegal. Said Bellow, "I didn't do this. I didn't authorize this."
Also on the recording, Harrell tells Bellow it appeared, "Blaney had free rein to do whatever she wanted," and that 20 or so detectives agreed.
Bellow testified that at one point Deputy Chief Mark Kraus told him he might need a lawyer. Bellow says he did appear before a Calcasieu Grand Jury to tell what he knew. He said he had no attorney. Said Bellow, "You don't need one if you didn't do anything wrong." Later, on cross examination, Bellow did admit he called Clemons, but Clemons said he already represented Bell and couldn't represent both.
Due to scheduling conflicts, the hearing recessed until October 26 at 8 a.m. October 27 is also set aside in case the board needs more time.
Witnesses subpoenaed for the hearing have been warned to continue to follow the rule of sequestration which means they are not to discuss the case and are not to read news media or social media accounts of the case.