Court Calls Disciplinary Theory ‘Bunkum,’ Reinstates Officer

As of June 30, 2009, Thomas Clark was a ten-year veteran of the New Orleans Police Department. Clark was working in a two-man police unit with his partner, Officer Henry Hollins. The officers observed a female subject standing outside an open door of a van. When the subject saw their police unit approaching, she slammed the door of the van and walked away. Because the area was known for narcotics activity, they elected to conduct a suspicious person stop. With the stop only two blocks from the Sixth District Station, the officers elected to transport the subject to the station for further questioning. However, they failed to obtain permission from their ranking officer, or notify the dispatcher of the police unit’s mileage before the transport. After reaching the station, Hollins informed Clark that he was not going to process the female subject and instead would return her to where they originally detained her. Hollins stated he was ending his shift and going home after dropping her off.

As it was nearing the end of his tour of duty, Clark decided to leave work a little early (Clark did not contest a 20-day suspension for this rule violation). He did so, under the impression that Hollins would drop the female off and the shift would be over. Unbeknownst to Clark, Hollins escorted the woman out of the station and took her to a remote location, where he attempted to rape her. Hollins was subsequently arrested, prosecuted, and convicted of attempted aggravated rape and second degree kidnapping.

The Department fired Clark, taking the position that his failure to follow two Department rules – one requiring officers to contact their supervisor and obtain permission before transporting an arrested subject to a police station, and the other requiring officers to contact a dispatcher and report their mileage before transport – led to Hollins’ assault on the subject. Clark challenged his termination in the Louisiana Court of Appeals.

The Court wasted little time getting to the heart of the City’s argument that Clark “did not follow protocol in transporting an arrested citizen to the police station, which directly led to the act of brutal crimes, which could have easily been avoided.” In the Court’s view, “this is bunkum and if embraced by this Court would make the Department and us both wrong. Even if Clark had contacted his supervisor before transporting the victim and called dispatch with the mileage information, Hollins could still commit the criminal acts he committed. No correlation exists between Clark’s violation of protocol and the unfortunate acts that occurred later in the evening. No action undertaken by Clark undermined the image and efficiency of the Department. The Department has failed to carry its burden of proof and that the penalty of termination was arbitrary and capricious, and the punishment was not commensurate with the infraction.

“We must now determine an appropriate penalty for Clark’s administrative violations. Here, Clark committed two violations. Therefore, we impose a five-day suspension for each charge.”

Clark v. Department of Police, 2013 WL 633073 (La. App. 4 Cir. 2013).