ZURIK: Suspended NOPD lieutenant under federal investigation

Published: Nov. 7, 2022 at 10:55 PM CST
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NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - The FBI has launched an investigation into a former New Orleans police captain who was the subject of a series of Fox 8 investigations.

Sources tell Fox 8 the FBI is looking into Sabrina Richardson, amid questions about possible payroll fraud.

Sources say Richardson is one of 12 NOPD officers under federal investigation.

The results of our Fox 8 investigation mirror what the NOPD determined in its own review of Richardson: That the former NOPD captain possibly committed payroll fraud.

The NOPD initially gave the high-ranking Richardson a sanction that Tulane University law professor Joel Friedman called a slap on the wrist, demoting her from the rank of captain to lieutenant. The NOPD later announced Richardson would also be suspended without pay for 120 days.

After examining four years of Richardson’s payroll and off-duty detail records, Fox 8 found 26 instances of Richardson double-dipping -- claiming to work her NOPD shift and an off-duty paid detail at the same time.

One example was March 20, 2019. From 3 to 7 p.m., Richardson worked an off-duty paid detail shift at Restaurant Depot. However, NOPD records show her on the clock for a duty shift at that same time.

NOPD citizen watchdog Skip Gallagher also looked into the timesheets and said Richardson’s timesheets don’t add up.

“This double-dipping issue, I just don’t get,” Gallagher said. “You have a detail and you’re working duty at the same time. This doesn’t make sense. And I think officers who work a normal 40-hour week, this just doesn’t happen.”

Fox 8 also requested when license plate-reading cameras across the city snapped pictures of Richardson’s police unit. We were able to get six months’ worth of those records.

In that time, we found eight instances where Richardson claimed to work an off-duty detail, but the cameras caught her police unit miles away from those assignments. That included Nov. 27, 2021, leading up to the Bayou Classic game in the Superdome. Richardson worked a detail at Champions Square from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. However, at 1:07 p.m., a license plate-reading camera captured a picture of her police unit on the West Bank, about five miles away from Champions Square.

About an hour later, another camera caught her unit on Chef Menteur Highway in New Orleans East, 6 1/2 miles away from Champions Square.

Before heading the NOPD’s Third District as captain, Richardson worked for the NOPD’s Public Integrity Bureau, which investigates complaints of officer misconduct. That means while Richardson investigated other officers for misconduct, she broke the rules and possibly laws herself.

Friedman said Richardson should be held to a higher bar.

“Surely, captains and above have to adhere to the highest standards, especially when you’re (part of) PIB,” Friedman said. “That’s a very important entity for public confidence, and for the morale inside of people who need to know that the people who are judging other cops are beyond reproach.”

Richardson is not the only officer Fox 8 found with questionable timesheets. Our stories showed officers abusing the detail program. We found several more examples of double-dipping and uncovered high-ranking officers breaking NOPD policy. We also found one officer who claimed to do paid detail work while he was racing a car on the Westbank or walking the dog in his neighborhood.

In May 2022, the NOPD confirmed 11 officers were under investigation by the FBI. Richardson’s investigation brings that number to 12.

Fox 8 also knows of five current or former officers who received target letters from the FBI.

That includes Todd Morrell, his brother Nicholas Morrell, Michael Stalbert, Rene Benjamin and Brian Sullivan.

While Fox 8′s sources do not believe Richardson has received a target letter, the FBI is investigating her behavior and paying close attention to the details.

After Fox 8 started investigating, the NOPD said it identified and fixed a loophole in the system that allowed officers to sign up for paid detail work while already scheduled for a duty shift.

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