State troopers demoted for Las Vegas road trip

BATON ROUGE — Two Louisiana state troopers are being demoted for a pricey road trip they took to a law enforcement conference in San Diego in which they improperly billed thousands of dollars for overtime and expenses, including a side trip to Las Vegas, the state police announced Monday.

The agency released the demotion letters after wrapping up its internal investigation into the 2016 trip, which found the officers charged the state for hours they spent sleeping, sightseeing and playing golf.

The demotions take effect immediately and come with hefty pay cuts for the men. In the letters, Col. Kevin Reeves, superintendent of the state police, described the troopers as “failing to accurately and truthfully” report their worktime and expenses.

“You were entrusted to represent this department at an international law enforcement conference, an opportunity in which you abused that trust,” Reeves wrote to Lt. Rodney Hyatt.

To Capt. Derrell Williams, the state police superintendent wrote: “This failure of leadership caused the public to question the integrity of this department, and that of each and every one of its employees.”

Williams, who already had been reassigned from a higher rank, was dropped another rung to lieutenant, and Hyatt was demoted to sergeant. Williams’ salary will fall more than $15,000 to $109,100 a year, and Hyatt’s pay will drop by nearly $9,500 to $90,300
annually, according to the demotion letters.

Details about the trip led to the retirement earlier this year of the state police’s long-time leader.

The disciplinary letters describe the troopers driving to the October 2016 conference in San Diego with a state-owned SUV in an
indirect route, diverting to a Las Vegas casino resort, the Hoover Dam and the Grand Canyon. The letters say the officers overbilled for their travel expenses and working hours.

For example, the letter to Hyatt says the trooper initially claimed to have worked “88 straight hours” at one point including 56 hours of overtime, and then another 56 hours straight that included 30 hours of overtime.

“These hours included time that you slept, went sightseeing and even saw a show in Las Vegas,” the letter says.

Both men, according to the demotion letters, charged for higher-level meals than were allowed in the places they stayed and received reimbursement for hotel costs that exceeded the permissible rates.

The internal investigation was prompted by a story in The Advocate newspaper.

Two other, lower-level troopers also were disciplined though not demoted, according to the state police. One received a letter of reprimand, while the other was “counseled.” All four officers can appeal the disciplinary actions to the Louisiana State Police Commission.

Reeves called the investigation “an unfortunate but necessary process.”

“As a department charged with the public safety of our citizens, we must hold ourselves accountable before we can begin to hold others accountable,” Reeves said in a statement.

The state police’s former superintendent, Mike Edmonson, retired in March after coming under increasing criticism for his leadership of the agency and, particularly, for accusations of lax spending practices — including the San Diego trip.

The agency’s travel expenses are under financial review by the Legislative Auditor’s Office. Reeves said his agency is cooperating with the auditors. In June, he said the state police travel policy was adjusted because of the investigation.

“One incident does not define us,” Reeves said. “We will inevitably make mistakes, but together, our goal must be to promote an environment that is not only conducive to public service and cultivates professional development and growth but also maintains public confidence in our agency.”

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