Las Vegas POA

Suspensions, Not Demotion, Appropriate Punishment For Harassing Conduct

Written on 04/30/2021
Will Aitchison

Jimmie Turner was a lieutenant with the New Orleans Police Department. In an October 17, 2018 disciplinary letter, the Department suspended and then demoted Turner to a police sergeant classification after finding that he violated Policy 328 entitled “Workplace Discriminatory Harassment/Retaliation.”

The discipline arose from a complaint lodged by Sergeant Peter Hansche. At the time of the complaint, Turner was Hansche’s immediate supervisor in the Homicide Unit. Hansche, a white male, alleged that Turner, a black male, created an environment of threats, fear and subtle domination. Hansche claimed that Turner made comments that Hansche and other employees of the Homicide Unit were homosexuals, that Turner used vulgar, discourteous, and unprofessional language, and that Turner engaged in multiple instances of uninvited and unwanted touching.

Following an investigation, a disciplinary panel found that Turner committed five violations of policies: (1) making inappropriate comments to Hansche and Marc Amos about their sexual preference; (2) making direct statements to Hansche and Detective Tommy Ripp ridiculing them and implying they were lovers; (3) making a statement to Detective Bruce Brueggeman that Turner was thinking about him while Turner was touching himself in the shower; (4) asking Tanisha Sykes, “so you sleeping with him?;” and (5) asking Karen Barbaro who was using the copy machine. In response to her statement that she did not know, Turner stated “it was a black person – I bet I know who it was.”

For each of the above offenses, the Department imposed a five-day suspension, totaling a 25-day suspension. The Department demoted Turner to sergeant based upon three separate violations: (1) approaching Hansche from behind and kissing him on the top of the head; (2) Turner placing his hands on Bruce Brueggeman’s neck and started massaging him saying “you going to give me a ride on your motorcycle;” and (3) embracing Hansche from behind.

The Louisiana Court of Appeals upheld the suspensions but overturned the demotion, ordering that the demotion be converted to three additional five-day suspensions. As to the suspensions, the Court wrote, “Each of the five instances involved Turner making inappropriate comments of a sexual or racial nature to other employees of the Department. We agree with the Civil Service Commission that the Department proved that the activity occurred, and such activity bore a real and substantial relationship to the efficient operation of the police department.”

As to the demotions, the Court found the penalty too harsh: “We do not believe that the disciplinary action imposed was commensurate with the infraction. The three incidents for which Turner was demoted from lieutenant to sergeant do not seem that dissimilar from those incidents for which Turner was given five-day suspensions. Therefore, rather than having demoted Turner, the Department should have ordered him to serve three additional five-day suspensions.”

Turner v. New Orleans Police Department, 2021 WL 816773 (La. Ct. App. 2021).

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