The gist: Lying and harassment were among the stated reasons for interim Lafayette Police Chief Wayne Griffin’s termination, according to internal investigation documents released in a public records suit. Redactions approved by a district judge leave open the question of exactly why he was fired.
Get caught up, quickly. In February The Daily Advertiser and The Current filed suit against LCG, seeking records related to the human resources/internal affairs investigation and subsequent firing of Griffin. On Oct. 21, just two weeks after he was named interim chief to replace fired Chief Thomas Glover, Griffin was placed on administrative leave amid a sexual harassment complaint involving text message exchanges with a fellow officer. After the investigation was completed, Griffin’s attorney, Allyson Melancon, was notified of his termination in a letter dated Jan. 20.
The two media outlets prevailed in poking through a broad reliance on police officers’ privacy rights invoked by LCG and Griffin himself to block access to his termination letter and investigative file. This is a key legal achievement in the case brought by the two news organizations.
“We’ve cracked that. It’s no longer a blanket [denial] that just gets thrown over everything. I think that’s huge,” says attorney Gary McGoffin, who represented both The Advertiser and The Current in the public records suit.
Because of the suit, information began to come to light even before the judge’s decision to force LCG to turn over the documents.
In court filings, Griffin’s attorney wrote that he wasn’t fired for sexual harassment. LCG officials didn’t object to that statement at the time, and media outlets reported it.
But the termination letter appears to indicate otherwise. Just released in the lawsuit, the letter clearly states that “the complaint was sustained” and specifically mentions policies governing harassment (3.1) and sexual harassment (3.2). The letter, from interim Chief Monte Potier, goes on to say Griffin’s actions violated the PD’s general orders and LPD policies that prohibit “knowingly [making] false or untrue statements” and “conduct unbecoming of an employee … in dealing with fellow employees, supervisors and superiors and/or members of the public.”
Griffin himself claims he’s unsure why he was fired. His attorney tells The Current that the letter perplexed her and her client and she sought clarification from Potier earlier this year.
“I was told by Chief Potier that he specifically did not sustain sexual harassment,” Melancon says. Only “harassment” was sustained, she says Potier told her. Potier did not immediately respond to an email sent to the PD’s public information officer regarding that conversation with Melancon.
Griffin is believed to have lied during the investigation. That much is clear from the investigation file, but the redactions obscure what he supposedly lied about.
“It is of great concern that your recent actions have affected the Lafayette Police Department and our Officers in a negative manner,” Potier wrote in the termination letter.
There is much yet to learn. Despite the release of the 285-page investigative report, the heavily redacted documents and termination letter do not offer conclusive insight into what “harassment” investigators found in a probe centered on text message exchanges between Griffin and the alleged victim. Griffin has appealed, and his hearing is Aug. 10. Melancon says she plans to contest both the allegation that he was untruthful during the investigation and that any harassment took place.
Meanwhile, Lafayette is searching for its sixth police chief in 2.5 years.
What’s next? This was one component of a larger legal case. The Daily Advertiser and The Current sought to halt LCG’s practice of boilerplate responses to public records requests, which attorneys used to grant long extensions beyond the five-day period established by Louisiana’s public records statute. The news organizations are weighing an appeal of the trial court’s decision to throw out that portion of the case.