Last Modified: Thursday, April 20, 2017 9:11 AM
The 3rd Circuit Court of Appeal has reversed a decision that reinstated a fired Lake Charles police deputy chief.
Thomas “T.J.” Bell was indicted in 2015 on one count of malfeasance in office on allegations that under his command, a department employee was paid for time she did not work.
He was fired in early 2015 by the Lake Charles Municipal Fire and Police Civil Service Board.
The employee, Jeanine Blaney, was fired from the department and was indicted on one count of payroll fraud.
In April 2016, State District Judge Sharon Wilson ordered the department to reinstate Bell, which was appealed by the city of Lake Charles.
On Wednesday, the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeal reversed Wilson’s decision, stating “it was manifestly erroneous for the district court to reverse the board’s decision.”
The court wrote that “the testimony established that the overtime system in the LCPD was based on the honor system; a supervisor had to assume that the requesting employee qualified for overtime because the supervisor had no way to verify the requesting employee’s hours.”
The court wrote that the board established that Blaney, with Bell’s approval, attended class at McNeese State University during work hours but did not make up her lost hours.
The court said the board proved that between Nov. 1, 2014, and April 2, 2015, Blaney was paid for 56.5 hours she did not work and logged 17 hours of overtime even though she failed to work eight-hour days.
“It was common knowledge in the Detective Division that Blaney answered only to Bell and that Bell was complicit in all of her actions,” the court wrote.
“Ironically, the actions of Bell, one of the highest ranking officers in the LCPD, are very similar to those which led Louisiana to adopt a constitutionally protected civil service system.”
The court ruled the board “acted in good faith and for cause in upholding his termination from the LCPD. Accordingly, the judgment of the district court is reversed and the board’s decision upholding Mayor (Randy) Roach and Chief (Don) Dixon’s termination of Bell is reinstated.”
The cost of the appeal will be assessed to Bell.
A criminal trial on the malfeasance in office charge has been scheduled for Aug. 28.