Fireworks were expected when Lafayette’s new police chief, less than two months on the job, arrived to address the local police union in late February. A day before, union members learned that Chief Thomas Glover Sr. had fired officer Pablo Estrada, who moonlights as a media figure in the Latino community, after video showed him shoving and punching a handcuffed suspect during intake at the Lafayette Parish jail in November.
“In the event that this becomes uncivil, I am going to end this meeting,” union President Jarvis Mayfield told the crowded union hall on Cameron Street, documented in a recording of the meeting obtained by The Current. “We understand one another?”
Glover told The Current he was unsure whether the meeting was fruitful. “There were some people who may not have been receptive,” he acknowledged in an interview.
Once Glover had left the building, however, tensions flared, with accusations flying that Mayfield, who had set up the meeting, was too cozy with the chief.
Within days, the union was contemplating calling for a no-confidence vote on Glover’s leadership. It has yet to make any official moves to that end.
In the short time since he took over the department, Glover has made waves. He fired two officers for excessive force, and approximately two dozen remain under administrative investigation by Internal Affairs, facing allegations that range from serious misconduct to policy infractions, according to attorneys who represent the officers. (Yet another was fired by the mayor-president in July but later reinstated by the civil service board.) Hostility already stoked by what they view as aggressive terminations and disciplinary actions lacking cause, some rank-and-file officers — in pushing for him to be removed — have also pounced on what they claim were unfair comments Glover made on a local radio show that could jeopardize their due process rights.
Chiefs often find themselves in conflict with unions. But the relationship between Glover and the Police Association of Lafayette, so far, is combustible.
No one knows better than Glover the power unions can exercise on policing. An ex-union leader, he’s taken the opportunity on multiple occasions to express his support for them. But police reform advocates insist unions shield bad officers from accountability and remain the biggest obstacles to improving departments and their relationships with their communities.
Glover does seem to be winning over some residents with a renewed focus on community policing (read more about that here and here), but he’s become a polarizing figure in the halls of the Lafayette Police Department. Police officers interviewed by The Current for this story spoke on the condition of anonymity, for fear of retaliation from the administration and/or Glover. Lafayette PD policy has long prohibited officers from speaking freely to the media without permission from the chief.
Whether the sea change in awareness of police brutality — that eventually led to Derek Chauvin’s guilty verdict in Minneapolis, two “pattern of practice” probes announced by the Justice Department in April and the federal civil rights charges against Chauvin and his fellow officers last week — will finally be what sparks a real change in the culture of law enforcement across the country remains a burning question. How Glover navigates a force already resisting him and whether he’s supported by the administration that hired him may determine where Lafayette fits into efforts sweeping the rest of the nation.
Lafayette has not been immune to accusations of excessive force, especially from Black suspects, and the department found itself under fire in a 2012 federal lawsuit, dismissed after two years, in which a group of officers on the force alleged widespread corruption and racism. But a pivotal moment came just three months after George Floyd’s murder at the hands of Minneapolis police.
The August shooting death of 31-year-old Trayford Pellerin was a catalyst for Lafayette’s protests last summer, and the most outward sign of the lasting impact might just be the city’s new police chief, the first Black person to lead the force.
Before being tapped to head the Lafayette PD by Mayor-President Josh Guillory, the Tallulah native worked for 36 years with the Dallas Police Department, retiring in 2017 as a lieutenant who’d spent much of his career as a supervisor, the last nine on command staff. Since retiring, Glover had been serving as a reserve officer with the department.
When he was introduced to the Lafayette community two days before Christmas (Guillory called him a former “deputy chief,” a position Glover has never held, according to his own application and personnel records), Glover acknowledged the challenges ahead.
Glover, who in 2016 as president of the Black Police Association of Greater Dallas, called police brutality against unarmed Black men an “epidemic,” came to a community still reckoning with the Pellerin shooting and a police department that had spent the past year without a permanent chief. Officers were on edge about adjusting to their new leader, who held himself out in the press conference as a change agent.
“We cannot police today the way we did a year ago,” Glover said that day, likening Lafayette’s present to rocky periods during his time in Dallas. “It has been a tremendous change, and if you don’t get with the change then something drastic is going to happen to your city and to your department, so we will be practicing 21st century policing.”
Glover later sought to distance himself from the “epidemic” comment he made years ago in an interview with The Current. “That’s not what I’ve said since I’ve been here,” he noted.
Glover hits the airwaves
For local residents determined to see police reform, Glover’s wide-ranging Feb. 21 interview with radio personality and former City-Parish Councilman Kenneth Boudreaux may have been a breath of fresh air (that’s what Boudreaux called it). For some members of the force, it was anything but. “Beyond surprised and worried at the same time,” one Lafayette Police officer told The Current. The program, “The Community Hour,” airs on 104.7 KNEK and is also livestreamed on Facebook. The officer took issue with the chief’s comments and characterizations, and bristled that he offered details on a police misconduct investigation.
“He thought the department was in such a bad shape that he was forced to reshape it. He pretty much bad-mouthed [the department] on the radio,” the officer said.
For the most part, Glover generalized his comments, but officers listening in didn’t see it that way.
“Culture in law enforcement is one of the most profound and most difficult things to change,” Glover told his host, a popular voice in the Black community who does contract work for Sheriff Mark Garber. “I can put out a directive. I can put out a special order. I can change the general orders. I can create a policy. But culture will eat that alive. It’ll step on it. It’ll trump it.”
Glover also went after qualified immunity for officers, a doctrine that shields them from being held personally liable for constitutional violations — a level of protection reform advocates say makes it difficult to hold police officers accountable for wrongdoing. The chief said it “should be overhauled,” noting there should not be blanket application for officers with a “contemptuous heart.”
The chief urged Boudreaux’s viewers and listeners to pay attention to how he handles disciplinary cases, saying his decision would be an “indicator” of his views on police misconduct. “I’m not anti-police, I’m pro-police. I’m anti-police misconduct. I’m anti-police abuse. I’m anti-police misuse of force,” he said. “Anybody who does something to taint the badge should be dealt with, and if it’s criminal they should be locked up. There will be history made in this department when it comes to holding people accountable.”
In explaining the approach he was bringing to discipline, Glover got specific about one incident without naming the officer involved. “My first four hours on the job in Lafayette, New Year’s Eve, I encountered and was briefed on a misuse of force,” he said. After watching video of the incident, Glover not only turned the matter over to Internal Affairs, he also immediately called in an investigator to launch a criminal probe.
It was later revealed in news reports that the officer involved in that incident is 29-year-old Alex Ritter. Ritter was arrested April 7 and charged with malfeasance in office and simple battery; Glover fired him that day. The man Ritter is accused of roughing up, Edmond Thornton, faces charges of armed robbery, simple escape from custody, battery of a police officer and resisting arrest. (The malfeasance charge is unclear.)
By giving the date of the incident during the February interview, it was clear who the chief was talking about, the anonymous officer told The Current.
“I have not faced any open opposition,” Glover told Boudreaux in the Feb. 21 interview. “That doesn’t mean that opposition is not there.”
Glover also told Boudreaux’s audience of a new position he was creating to improve accountability. “I have a compliance officer position I am creating who is going to come in and review instances of use of force,” Glover said. “I’m going to review all of the use of force incidents in the last year to make sure that we were following policy, that there were no violations, that no one was mistreated or abused.
“If I identify issues, and if there is a problem with someone who has committed a violation, I will act on it as long as the statute of limitations hasn’t passed,” the chief added. Glover reiterated that he’d already made referrals to the PD to investigate officers criminally.
In an April 6 interview with The Current, Glover confirmed that Lt. Ed Washington had been named to the compliance post 12 days earlier. “I have no idea what I’m going to find; we’re in the early stages of it,” the chief said. “He’s probably reviewed maybe a dozen or so body-cam videos.” The chief also said he expected that what he sees on the recordings may be taken care of through training, or a sit-down with the officer’s chain of command. “I’ve made recommendations to our training staff based on things that I’ve seen,” he said.
Union peppers chief with questions
Two days after his appearance on Boudreaux’s show, Glover addressed union members, by union President Mayfield’s request, at one of their regular monthly meetings. Approximately 85 percent of Lafayette’s more than 280 officers are members of the local union, the Police Association of Lafayette; the majority of the force is white.
Glover fielded a range of questions, from his views on civil service and the state’s police bill of rights to the department’s strained relationship with the sheriff and staffing of its patrol force.
“I don’t believe that my hands should be tied because of a civil service process that I think in many instances goes overboard to protect a person, even though we know that they have committed a violation,” Glover told union members. “I do have some issues with the way civil service laws are written, and I can’t do anything about ’em. That would require me to go to Baton Rouge and lobby lawmakers.”
Multiple reform bills are working their way through Louisiana’s Legislature. A bill from the police reform task force that would prohibit chokeholds and no-knock warrants, along with requiring training for officers to intervene when they see another officer doing something wrong, advanced out of the Senate judiciary committee in late April without objection. And another that would change some aspects of the police officer bill of rights cleared a House committee days later. Dismantling of qualified immunity, the most significant reform measure to come out of this legislative session, according to the Louisiana Illuminator, is scheduled for debate on the House floor Tuesday.
Glover later told The Current civil service was created largely to shield officers from retaliation and protect them in the promotion process (he told union members he opposes the current promotion process). “Civil service was not designed to prevent a police chief or anybody in the police command staff from issuing corrective action that was necessary and the result of sustained investigations,” he said.
Glover, however, declined to comment on efforts to change civil service, saying that’s a process that should be driven by the community and elected officials. “I will not get involved in the political end of it,” he said.
Lafayette City Marshal Reggie Thomas, who spent three decades with the Lafayette PD and served two terms on the Lafayette Municipal Fire and Police Civil Service Board, agreed that there are problems with civil service, though he declined to offer any specifics. “Nobody’s civil service is like Louisiana’s,” Thomas told The Current. “I think there’s room for improvement.”
Glover addressed the union for well over an hour, sketching out a number of tactical matters: He wants additional accountability, a stronger recruitment effort, and many more officers on the street. Sources for this story, however, insist that his decisions about precinct staffing and to put so many officers on administrative leave or at a desk run counter to his own goals. Despite the immense tension, the discussion remained respectful.
Officers peppered the chief with questions about whether they would have his support in use of force cases in which they followed their training. “I’m very concerned about the training,” Glover said, addressing many officers’ concerns but refusing to directly answer the question.
But after the chief left, the night took a turn, and officers would soon be gathering momentum for a vote of no confidence.
There was a back and forth over whether the union’s Black president, Mayfield (who had briefly left the room), should continue in a leadership position because of what some members view as close ties to the chief.
The evening ended with a heated argument between Mayfield and another officer. That officer filed a complaint against Mayfield, a well-liked school resource officer, that led to an Internal Affairs investigation.
KNEK’s Boudreaux soon caught wind of the union’s plan to call for a vote of no confidence in Glover.
“He seems to be just what the doctor ordered,” said Boudreaux, who addressed the union’s plans to oust Glover on his program the following Sunday. “And then he came on this show and he said some things … and then the union, the Lafayette Police union, had a response,” Boudreaux added, apparently reading from a leaked draft of a union statement. “Simply because he wants to do what’s right, simply because he wants officers who treat everyone in this community exactly the same, we’re going to have a vote of no confidence?”
Glover does not yet have civil service protection from dismissal. He is still in his one-year probationary period, which ends on 12-31-21, according the Lafayette Municipal Fire and Police Civil Service Board’s attorney, Candice Hattan. The chief, it seems, is unlikely to be scared off easily. “I will not be distracted,” the chief told The Current. “In terms of people spouting off about no confidence votes or whatever, those go on in the country probably on a weekly basis to monthly basis, and in most instances, they’re effective about 5 percent of the time. If there is a group of officers who are not pleased with what I am doing, I’d like to sit down with them and come up with solutions and ways to address what their concerns are.”
Glover has been on the other side of this fight; battles aren’t unusual for unions and their chiefs (the Lafayette police union has had conflicts with prior chiefs). In 2016, the year before he retired from the Dallas PD, the union Glover presided over was among those calling for Chief David Brown to resign, in part because of what Glover characterized as a lack of diversity in the department and unfair promotion practices as they related to qualified Black officers. (Glover unsuccessfully sued the department in 2004, claiming he wasn’t promoted out of retaliation for his union work and because of his skin color.) Brown, who is Black, retired from the Dallas PD that year and is now superintendent of the Chicago PD.
Just how much the new chief can accomplish without buy-in from the majority of his officers may prove to be his biggest challenge. Glover does, however, claim to have Guillory’s full support in the way he is running the department.
The Guillory administration did not respond to several requests for comment on Guillory’s support of the chief’s leadership and the role the administration is playing in his decisions.
Boudreaux wondered aloud on his radio program who will be there for Glover if the going gets tough. “The first step is going to be resistance, the second step is going to be complaints, and the third step is going to be a vote of no confidence,” Boudreaux said. “Lafayette Consolidated Government administration, are you going to stand behind the man? Council members, where are you going to be?” the radio host asked. “The community really needs to take this on.”
Glover’s leadership will be tested in the coming days, when a grand jury announces whether it will indict the officers involved in Pellerin’s death after a Louisiana State Police investigation deemed it a justified shooting. “We know, as a police department, that things can get so much worse,” another officer told The Current, referring to the potential unrest that decision could stir. Glover declined to comment about any preparations that may be underway to deal with the community’s reaction. And grievances will continue as his firings of officers are adjudicated. Both officers he terminated have appealed their dismissals; Ritter also is fighting the criminal charges against him.
The police union is scheduled to elect a new five-member board — president, vice president, secretary, treasurer and sergeant at arms — at its May 18 meeting. Multiple sources told The Current Mayfield, who declined a request for comment, will not retain his post as president, an indication the vote of no confidence is still in the making.
“I know some of you didn’t get the answers you wanted here, but what I want you to do is give me a chance,” Glover told the union in February, addressing head-on the conflict to come. “The things that I want to do, I think are going to be good.”