No Discipline For Following Lieutenant’s Guidance

Written on 08/06/2022
Will Aitchison

Sergeant Willie Jenkins works for the New Orleans Police Department (NOPD). On April 18, 2018, Jenkins, along with several other NOPD offi­cers, responded to a call concerning an armed robbery. Attempting to locate and arrest the suspect, Detective De­cynda Chambers spoke to the resident and obtained her verbal consent to enter the residence, upon which cer­tain officers entered, encountered the suspect, and arrested him.

The officers who entered the residence included Jenkins, another sergeant named Joseph Davis, and a lieutenant, Octavio Baldassaro. Subsequently, the NOPD investi­gated and disciplined these officers for failing to complete a consent to search form, documenting that the resident consented to the search and obtaining the signatures of the resident and the supervising officer approving the search.

Jenkins appealed his five-day suspension to the New Orleans Civil Service Commission. When the Com­mission reversed the suspension, the City challenged the decision in the Louisiana Court of Appeals.

The Court upheld the Com­mission’s decision overturning the suspension. The Court cited the Commission’s finding that “although Jenkins failed to complete a consent to search form, the highest-ranking officer on the scene, Baldassaro, tes­tified such a form was not required based on the exigent circumstances.

As an officer ranked below Baldassaro – who had no supervisory duties at this scene – Jenkins should not suffer discipline for his supervisor’s decision not to require the lead detective to obtain the execution of a consent to search form.”

The Court found that “the Com­mission’s reasoning provides a ratio­nal basis for reversing the discipline at issue. Contrary to the NOPD’s suggestion, we do not find that the Commission ignored any testimony so as to substitute its judgment for that of the appointing authority. In­deed, no factual dispute existed at the hearing that the resident gave verbal consent to search the residence, none of the officers completed the form, the officers at the scene and their commander all believed that exigent circumstances existed for the search, and the Public Integrity Bureau in­vestigators instead disagreed that any exigent circumstances were present.

“Our review of the Commission’s ruling demonstrates that, on review of all evidence and testimony, the Commission found that the NOPD did not meet its burden to prove that Jenkins’ conduct violated the NOPD’s search and seizure policy. The Commission’s decision turns on its assessment that Jenkins was not acting in a supervisory capacity at the time of the consent search, and that Baldassaro was the supervisor on the scene. Baldassaro, however, did not require the consent to search form’s completion based on his perception that exigent circumstances existed, which, in Baldassaro’s view, allevi­ated the form’s requirement. On the facts presented, we cannot say that the Commission’s conclusion, that Jenkins should not be disciplined for Baldassaro’s supervisory judgment, is arbitrary or capricious.”

Jenkins v. New Orleans Police Department, 2022 WL 2237457 (La. App. 2022).

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