LAKE CHARLES, LA (KPLC) - For three years, attorneys for T.J. Bell say he's lived under the cloud of indictment-- unable to work and now, over their objection, his trial is continued until August 27th. The former Lake Charles Police deputy chief is charged with malfeasance in office and abuse of office.
Officials at the Calcasieu District Attorney's Office say Bell had his subordinate doing homework for him, as he worked toward a degree from McNeese, and allowed her to get overtime pay for hours she didn't work. Holland says the charge of abuse of office against Bell means he used the position of his office, being in charge of the clerks at the detective division, to compel or coerce her to do something that he was not entitled to get.
"What he was not entitled to get is her doing his homework," said Holland, "And I believe we have proof that she did his homework for him. He wouldn't have gotten a degree but for her," said Holland.
And what did former clerk, Jeanine Blaney, the clerk, allegedly get out of it?
"She was allowed to not show up at work, she never worked an eight hour day when she was under surveillance, and she claimed overtime that she wasn't entitled to, so she basically stole money from the city," said Holland.
Defense attorneys Todd Clemons and Adam Johnson went to court trying to get prosecutor Holland held in contempt of court, because they say he refused to turn over information they should have in order to properly defend Bell. At time there were heated exchanges.
"In order to hold somebody in contempt they have to intentionally defy an order of the court, and the position that I've taken all along is the information these people are asking for, they've had for months," Holland said.
"And what the problem is that they don't want to go through the thousands of pages that they have and figure it out, they want me to do their work for them," he said.
The state hired a linguistics expert to go through tests Bell submitted for a degree at McNeese, and determine which tests his subordinate may have taken for him.
Also, the defense says the investigation into Bell should have been handled by an independent agency, not LCPD, due to various conflicts of interest, including business dealings between Chief Don Dixon, Deputy Chief Mark Kraus and Lieutenant Richard Harrell.
In a motion filed into court records, defense attorneys say, "A critical part of Thomas J. Bell's defense is that the investigation was unwarranted, was personally and politically motivated and was initiated by officers rife with conflicts of interest who stood to gain from his being charged."
In another motion the defense filed says, "The investigation of...Bell was sloppy, biased....Indeed an investigation should never have happened much less been conducted in-house by LCPD. Furthermore, a critical part of the defense's case are the conflicts of interest presented by the in-house investigation of the alleged offense by the LCPD, the bias involved...and the selective prosecution of...Bell by those in power at the LCPD who wanted his job and wanted to be chief despite his seniority."
However Holland says there are no conflicts of interest.
"If the facts are in your favor you argue the facts. If the law is in your favor you argue the law. And if neither are in your favor which is the case with this defendant, you just argue like hell and that's what's going on," said Holland.
Holland not only disputes conflicts of interest but says he'll fight to keep the defense from gaining access to private information of officers. He says defense attorneys want to get the personnel records of every police officer associated with the case. Holland says no officer who worked on the case has anything to hide, still he says:
"I'm not going to have criminal defense lawyers combing through the personal records of police officers that are doing their job, So, anytime any defense lawyer, including these two, makes some sort of request for personnel records, we're going to fight that as far as we can fight it," he said.
And Holland says there are no conflicts dealing with promotions at the LCPD. Dixon plans to retire and Holland says Bell himself can apply for the chief position.
The judge took no action on the contempt issue raised by the defense.
Defense attorneys say they didn't have time for an on camera interview, but dispute what Holland says.
"We want Hugo to do his damn job and give us what Judge Ritchie ordered him to give us on March 26," said Clemons.
There will likely be at least one more hearing before the trial set for August 27.