The gist: Interim Lafayette Police Chief Wayne Griffin was not fired for sexual harassment, according to a pre-trial court filing in an ongoing public records dispute. Why the veteran police sergeant Mayor-President Josh Guillory hoped to make the city’s permanent chief was dismissed remains a question mark.
Get caught up, quickly. On Feb. 1, The Daily Advertiser and The Current filed suit against LCG, seeking records related to the internal 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 a fellow officer. After the investigation was completed, Griffin’s attorney, Allyson Melancon, was notified of his termination on Jan. 21.
LCG has since refused all of The Advertiser’s and The Current’s separate requests for information about the investigation and its findings, even failing to turn over a routine, summary report that would have included limited information on the sexual harassment complaint and resolution. LCG also has denied specific requests to produce his termination letter. Griffin is appealing his dismissal.
“We’re here on the public’s business and the public’s right to know,” the two media outlets’ attorney, Gary McGoffin, said in court Tuesday. When in doubt about whether a record is public, he argued before 15th Judicial District Court Judge Thomas Frederick, the law holds that the issue “must” be resolved in favor of the public’s right to access.
Revelations in court documents underscore the damage that can be caused by a lack of transparency. While the administration has refused to publicly discuss its reasons for terminating Griffin and struggled to explain Glover’s firing during his appeal, Melancon put on the record in the suit that Griffin was fired for reasons other than sexual harassment. In their court filings, LCG attorneys were first to disclose that a third party filed the initial sexual harassment complaint. These admissions were used to argue that the documents sought were exempt from Louisiana’s public records statute on privacy grounds, reasoning that the disclosures could damage Griffin’s reputation and reveal the identity of the alleged victim.
“He’s been pilloried in public about that,” McGoffin said, while also noting case law holding that a high-ranking public official like Griffin has a diminished expectation of privacy related to his employment. “There’s no victim. There’s no harassment,” he told the judge.
Griffin was the fourth chief in two years to lead the Lafayette PD, which department sources say continues to be frustrated by ongoing interference in its operations from the Guillory administration and an uneasiness about who will be named Lafayette’s next chief; a national search is underway. Acting Chief Monte Potier is currently running the department.
Both LCG and Griffin’s attorney argued that his right to privacy outweighs the public’s interest. Melancon also maintained that disclosures could affect his appeal. The appeal hearing is set for Aug. 10, and Melancon acknowledged that much of what is being sought by the media outlets would be public ahead of that hearing.
“It is unclear how a public disclosure of these documents [now] … could so bias the board that Griffin would be deprived a fair hearing,” McGoffin said in pleadings. “If we were to follow Griffin’s rationale, then the press would be precluded from covering arrests or criminal allegations prior to the ultimate trial on the merits and exhaustion of all appellate remedies.”
A ruling is forthcoming. Frederick is reviewing the investigative file and will determine any day now whether any additional information should be released and the extent to which any documents should be redacted for privacy reasons.