ZURIK: Police monitor warns of potential conflicts in Vappie investigation
NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - The Independent Police Monitor is voicing concerns about a potential conflict of interest in the New Orleans Police Department’s investigation into an officer highlighted in a series of Fox 8 investigations.
Stella Cziment wrote a letter to City Council President J.P. Morrell and City Attorney Donesia Turner on Thursday (Feb. 9) regarding the NOPD’s internal investigation into Officer Jeffrey Vappie.
Fox 8′s Outside the Office investigations have shown Vappie spending long hours, both on and off the clock, with Mayor LaToya Cantrell inside a city-owned apartment.
Vappie’s wife filed for divorce, alleging an affair between Vappie and the Mayor, which both of them deny.
As our investigations aired, the NOPD launched an investigation into his timesheets.
However, Cziment says that the investigation could lead to an adversarial relationship between the NOPD and the mayor, citing a statement from the mayor’s office released last week that appears to attack members of the NOPD.
In the statement, Cantrell’s spokesperson told law enforcement officers critical of the mayor to “exercise their right to remain silent.”
“Those who purport themselves to be in law enforcement but who rather score cheap and meaningless political points at the expense of the safety and well-being of the people of the City of New Orleans should exercise their right to remain silent,” said Gregory Joseph, Director of Communications.
Cziment says “such a statement constitutes a directive by the mayor that NOPD officers not participate in or conduct the misconduct investigation, even though the NOPD must do so.”
In a weekly press conference on Wednesday, Mayor Cantrell said the focus on her security officers’ timesheets was “unfair.”
When the NOPD initially launched its investigations, Morrell and fellow council member Joe Giarrusso voiced concerns about whether that investigation could be fair and partial, especially after Cantrell voiced her support for Vappie, who was a member of her security team.
“In regards to Officer Jeffrey Vappie, a senior police officer within the New Orleans Police Department, over 25 years there, no doubt about that, is a valued and trusted advisor,” Cantrell said at a press conference on Nov. 10 when asked about the investigation.
Cziment’s statement also says she’s worried about a legal conflict of interest.
“We seek clarity on who is legal counsel for the NOPD in these circumstances,” she wrote. “Mayor Cantrell, along with the possibly the superintendent of police - both current and former - may be material witnesses to the allegation of misconduct.”
Emails show the NOPD’s Public Integrity Bureau put Vappie back on full duty in late December, however, it is unclear what the status of the investigation is.
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