No Obligation for Hearing Board to Create Transcript

Philip Vernon is a police officer at the Bossier City Police Department in Louisiana. In 2009, Vernon was involved in the arrest at the Horseshoe Casino in Bossier City of Sherburne Sentell. Sentell was arrested for domestic violence. The dispute between Sentell and his wife was recorded by the casino surveillance cameras. The recording showed an allegedly intoxicated Sentell restraining his wife.

At the time of his arrest, Sentelle was an assistant district attorney. Although Vernon was not the arresting officer, he was responsible for transporting Sentell to jail. Upon arriving at the jail, Vernon informed the arresting officer that Sentell made threats in the patrol car that “police officers were going to lose their jobs over his arrest.”

A subsequent investigation involved reviewing the in-car video of the jail transport. When the video revealed that Sentell did not make any comments threatening officers’ jobs, the Department terminated Vernon for dishonesty. Vernon appealed to the City’s Fire and Police Civil Service Board, which reduced his termination to a 90-day suspension. Vernon continued his appeals to the Louisiana Court of Appeals.

In court, Vernon alleged that the recordings of the Board’s hearing had been altered and spliced together, and that numerous parts of the recordings were missing. Vernon asserted that the Board, as custodian and keeper of the recordings, had a duty not to “spoil the evidence,” since it was foreseeable that the evidence needed to be preserved due to the nature of the case. Vernon’s proposed solution was that the Board should have been required to make a permanent transcript of its proceedings.

The Court rejected Vernon’s arguments. The Court ruled that “it was Vernon’s duty to make the necessary arrangements to have the testimony taken transcribed, at his expense, if he wanted to preserve a permanent transcript of the Board’s preceding. The trial court correctly concluded that the Board was not under any obligation to preserve or prepare a transcript of the proceedings on Vernon’s behalf.”

City of Bossier City v. Vernon, 2011 WL 5172898 (La. App. 2 Cir. 2011).

The article appears in our January 2012 issue.