With Lafayette’s police chief out, uncertainty now surrounds his deputy chief

Deputy Chief Reggie Thomas, foreground, with Sheriff Mark Garber Image courtesy The Acadiana Advocate

The gist: Lafayette Police Chief Toby Aguillard formally resigned earlier this week, ending what appeared to be a brewing standoff between the short-tenured chief and his would-be boss, Mayor-President Josh Guillory. The new administration is planning further restructuring of the police department, which could result in the ouster of Deputy Chief Reggie Thomas, according to several sources familiar with the administration’s thinking who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

Those sources say Guillory may move to cut Thomas’s position. The longtime LPD officer acknowledged speculation circulating among law enforcement that Guillory aims to eliminate the deputy chief position, which appears to require council approval.

The deputy chief won’t accept a demotion, if the position is axed. Elimination of his current job, and resulting rank, would drop Thomas two ranks — to captain with a salary cut of about $18,000 a year. 

“If they take away the position, I will have no job. I will have to be demoted,” he says.

Thomas was passed over as interim chief for a lower ranking officer. Instead, Guillory named Lt. Scott Morgan to the post Monday. Thomas directed questions about how he may fit into the ongoing reorganization to Morgan. The Current has a pending request into Morgan for an interview about the changes.

After the retirement of Aguillard’s predecessor, Thomas served as interim chief. He was on former Mayor-President Joel Robideaux’s selection committee that ultimately led to Aguillard’s appointment. At Robideaux’s urging, the Lafayette City-Parish Council created the position of deputy chief in 2016 for Thomas, who had been Robideaux’s first choice for the chief’s job and would have been Lafayette’s first black police chief. Because Thomas at the time lacked a bachelor’s degree, which he has since earned, he did not meet the qualifications for the chief’s job. As deputy chief since October 2016, Thomas has been running the day-to-day operations, with Aguillard the public face of the department.

Thomas expects some adjustments in that dynamic. “Any changes that they want, we’re going to make it happen, not only for the police department, but for the community,” Thomas says. “Of course, my job is going to change,” he acknowledges, noting the interim chief is in “constant contact” with the administration. He expects some adjustments in his current role and responsibilities, and says he intends to apply for the chief’s position. He will mark his 30th year with the department on Sept. 17, meeting a longtime goal. 

“I should be able to leave on my own terms and not have someone take away a position I have totally earned,” Thomas says. In April, he will have been on the Deferred Retirement Option Plan for a year (the max is three years), meaning he collects his $115,000 a year salary while his retirement benefits are deposited into an account he can access after retirement.

Guillory won’t confirm his plans just yet. LCG spokeswoman Cydra Wingerter says in an emailed response that the mayor-president is mulling changes that would put more officers on the street. “I can confirm that Reggie Thomas remains the Deputy Chief. I am not aware of Josh asking for his resignation,” she says.

The local police union has the option of offering a vote of support for Thomas. That is, if its membership is willing. The Lafayette Police Association has a meeting scheduled for Jan. 14. Union President David Stanley declined to comment for this story, though “ongoing changes at the Lafayette Police Department” is listed among the agenda items for that meeting. 

Why this matters. There is reportedly a high level of anxiety about the unknown within the walls of the department. For most of his tenure as deputy chief, Thomas has been popular among many officers and the public alike, and any change to his status could present a public relations challenge for the incoming administration. The NAACP has already expressed support for keeping Thomas in his current role, and the organization appears to be awaiting more information on Guillory’s plans before staking out a stronger position.