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Lafayette officer files suit against LCG over discipline related to union work

U.S. Western District Courthouse
Posted at 9:07 AM, Jun 15, 2022
and last updated 2022-06-15 10:07:11-04

A Lafayette Police Officer has filed suit in federal court against LCG, alleging that he was disciplined for doing work for the local police union.

David Stanley was president of the Police Association of Lafayette when the investigation and discipline at issue took place, the suit, filed by attorneys with Sudduth & Associates in Lake Charles, alleges.

Stanley, who has been a Lafayette Police Officer since 2009, sued the City of Lafayette and Lafayette Consolidated Government, as well as the four men who served as police chief during the year the discipline process took place. Lafayette has had five police chiefs since January 2020 and currently is searching for a new one. To read about that, click here.

Stanley is alleging that LCG's discipline against him violated his First Amendment rights, and that it was in retaliation for his exercise of free speech on behalf of the union.

"Defendants' and LPD's actions are nothing more than a blatant attempt to chill Stanley's rights to free speech according to the First Amendment, chill and intimidate other members of PAL from speaking out on matters of public concern, and to chill and discourage membership in this lawful organization," the suit alleges.

At issue are two social media posts that Stanley made on the union's Facebook page in 2020, while he was president of the union. One post was about the union's opposition to a bill that was pending in the Louisiana Legislature at the time; the bill would have allowed police departments in Broussard, Carencro, Scott and Youngsville to promote officers to vacant positions without regard to seniority. The second post described a traffic stop that resulted in Lafayette officers arresting a wanted felon and large quantities of drugs and money.

After the posts - which Stanley has maintained were posted when he was off-duty - the Lafayette Police Department's Internal Affairs Division launched an investigation into Stanley, and following that investigation he was given an 80-hour suspension without pay and was transferred out of his position as a K-9 officer.

The suit alleges that IA investigators "quizzed" Stanley about his role with the union and how the union's political activities operate. His attorney attended the interview and objected to that line of questioning, referring those investigators to a legal opinion from former City Attorney Paul Escott warning officials they shouldn't "interfere in First Amendment protected union activities" and even providing investigators with a cease-and-desist letter.

When the IA investigation resulted in the two-week suspension without pay, Stanley already was on medically-approved sick leave due to "extreme emotional distress" related to the investigation, the suit alleges. Because of that, he served the suspension in June 2021, which was almost a year after the suspension was ordered in August 2020, the suit alleges.

After the suspension, he was transferred out of the K-9 unit. The suit alleges that officials first said Stanley's mental health was the reason for the transfer, and then later said it was for political reasons.

Stanley appealed the suspension and the transfer to the Lafayette Municipal Fire and Police Civil Service Board, which decided that Stanley didn't prove that the transfer was retaliation. However, the board did agree that the suspension over the bill in the legislature wasn't made for just cause and in good faith. The board did uphold discipline related to the traffic stop post, but said two weeks was too harsh and reduced it to three days.

Both Stanley and LCG have appealed those decisions to state district court; Lafayette Clerk of Court records indicate no date to hear the appeals have been set.

In the federal suit, Stanley is asking the Court to award him reasonable attorney fees, compensatory damages, lost wages and back pay, medical bills past, present and future, mental anguish damages and injunctive relief.

"The Lafayette Police Department and its Interim Chiefs or Chiefs may disagree with PAL's views as expressed in the media marketplace of Facebook, as is their right," the suit states. "What is not their right, however, is to keelhaul Stanley under the vessel that is the LPD so as to cause him economic, professional and medical harm simply because he is a union member and former union president. This is the very thing that (interim Police Chief Scott) Morgan did here, and only because he personally and politically objected to the union's protected political activity and right to speak out on matters of public concern."