City attorney backs Cryer

August 13, 2010 at 7:54 pm

*published Aug. 13, 2010
Van Norman: Westlake police chief had inherent right to suspend officer

WESTLAKE — Citing state Supreme Court cases, City Attorney John Van Norman III said that being able to suspend an officer is one of Police Chief Jeremy Cryer’s inherent rights as chief.

On Monday, Aug. 9, Cryer suspended Michael Dickerson, his opponent in the upcoming election, for two weeks after an internal investigation determined he threatened a woman while on duty. Dickerson has denied the allegation, but on his counsel’s advice declined to comment further.

Under R.S. 33:423, chiefs in certain small towns “shall make recommendations to the mayor and board of aldermen for appointment of police personnel, for the promotion of officers, to effect disciplinary action, and for dismissal of police personnel.”

The provision is part of the Lawrason Act, a set of laws that Westlake was incorporated under. The statutes exempt more than a dozen municipalities, along with towns whose populations fell between 5,900 and 6,200 people as of the 1990 census. None of the exemptions apply to Westlake.

Van Norman said he knows the law grants oversight powers to the city’s governing board, but that he deferred to the chief’s inherent power to run his office.

“If you have an officer who doesn’t want to work on Saturday and he goes to the City Council, is the chief supposed to let that shift be short an officer,” he said.

Van Norman cited two state Supreme Court cases: Lentini v. Kenner and Gros v. Patterson.

In the Lentini case, the high court agreed with a police chief’s contention that a city ordinance, in listing specific job duties for chiefs, unlawfully limited his authority.

“Municipalities derive their powers from the State,” the ruling reads. “Being creatures of this higher authority, they cannot legislate beyond the bounds fixed by the State Constitution and general laws.”

In the Gros case, the court said the assistant police chief of Patterson couldn’t sue for back pay and benefits he said he was owed for the period between his suspension by the chief and his firing by the council.

His pay had been withheld by the mayor.

The justices agreed with an appellate court ruling that said Gros wasn’t entitled to recover wages because he never took legal action against the suspension.


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