MORGAN CITY — When Officer Billi Driskill entered her appeal hearing in front of the civil service board Thursday, she had a two-day suspension. After the nearly four hour meeting, she ended up with a seven-day suspension.
Driskill was disciplined for failure to use sound judgment and for cursing in front of the public.
On the night of April 9, Driskill was called to escort a money bag after the close of the Rathskeller lounge. Meanwhile, Anthony “Trey” Cutrera III was sleeping off a night of drinking in his girlfriend’s car. The girlfriend, Ariel Ashley, was an employee of the bar and had given Cutrera permission to be in her vehicle.
Ashley and co-worker Stephanie Garner walked to the back of the lounge where Ashley’s vehicle was parked. They attempted to wake Cutrera who was passed out in the driver’s seat. By her own admission, Driskill did not immediately follow the money to the back of the building as she was required to do. She said she was typing a report when the girls left the building.
Witness statements vary slightly when describing what happened next.
When the officer appeared in the rear of the building, she saw the girls attempting to wake Cutrera. Whether they requested her assistance was debated.
Cutrera said he woke to Driskill shouting at him to “wake the f--- up,” and he got out of the vehicle. The officer grabbed his arm, but he thought it was Ashley grabbing him, so he pulled away, he testified.
When he looked back, he realized an officer was the one who had touched him, so he turned around and started walking toward her patrol car. That is when she tased him in the back.
Ashley heard him scream and saw him on the ground, so she rushed toward him, she said. Driskill told her to “get the f--- back into her car,” which she did.
Driskill admitted to cursing at Ashley.
The officer was not disciplined for the tasing incident, but several board members took issue with it anyway. Witnesses said they did not hear Driskill warn Cutrera he was about to be hit with a stun gun. Also, the board cited the fact that by all accounts Cutrera was too drunk to be a risk to anyone’s safety. Further, they questioned tasing a person who is walking away.
Capt. Mike Marino testified that Driskill had received two Letters of Counseling prior to this incident. The letters are a warning given in lieu of disciplinary action.
One was for violating the officers code of conduct by cursing at and berating officers on the Nicholls State University campus in Thibodaux. Driskill denies she was involved with the incident.
The second letter involved a lack of sound judgement in a Mardi Gras 2010 incident in which Driskill’s patrol car was taken from her by a man who had been handcuffed in the back of the cruiser.
During the Friday night parade, the man had broken out of his handcuffs and through the partition before stealing the car. He was believed to be headed toward the parade route and was in possession of a backup gun Driskill had failed to secure, which had left on the seat of the car, according to testimony. The weapon still has not been recovered.
Further, evidence in the vehicle was left overnight instead of being turned in to the property vault as is required to maintain a chain of custody.
The meeting came complete with an illegally called executive session. The board failed to expand the agenda and adjourned into a closed meeting to discuss a “point of law.” They voted 4-1 to enter the closed meeting with Chairman Paul Harvey voting against.
Reasons a board may adjourn for executive session, under state law, are:
—To discuss the character, professional competence or health of a person.
—Discuss strategy or negotiations regarding collective bargaining or litigation “when an open meeting would have a detrimental effect on the bargaining or litigation position of the public body.”
—Discuss security personnel, plans or devices.
—Investigate alleged misconduct.
—Deal with natural disaster, threat of epidemic, civil disturbance, suppression of insurrections, repelling of invasions or other matters of similar magnitude.
When the board returned from the 30 minute executive session, Harvey told Driskill that the board wanted to hear any witnesses she might have who could testify that the discipline she received was unfair. Since “everyone acknowledged what the chief alleges” happened, Harvey reasoned that her dispute was with the discipline she received. Driskill had no such witnesses.
Board member James Blair moved to uphold the two day suspension. It was seconded by Ken Arceneaux. The motion was then amended by Harvey, with a second by Joseph Allen, to increase the suspension to seven days without pay. The board voted 4-1 for the seven day suspension with Blair voting against.
Driskill questioned why the suspension was increased.
Harvey said the incident made him “question the competency of the police department … that concerns me.” He also noted that the tasing incident made him rethink his position that police brutality complaints are frivolous.
“I don’t see where anything went right that night,” he told Driskill.