Chalmette High counselor paid nearly $300k in spite of juvenile sex crime allegation

Updated: Feb. 14, 2023 at 10:05 PM CST
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NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - The St. Bernard Parish School System says it has paid an employee nearly $300,000 in salary even though he has not set foot on a school campus since 2018.

Tommie Powell III has been on administrative leave pending an upcoming trial on a juvenile sex crime charge.

Powell worked as a guidance counselor at Chalmette High School until September 2018 when St. Bernard Sheriff’s Deputies arrested him after a 16-year-old female student accused him of touching her inappropriately.

Ten months later, a St. Bernard Parish Grand Jury indicted him on one count of indecent behavior with a juvenile.

In a response to FOX 8 questions, a spokesperson for the St. Bernard Parish Superintendent’s office says Powell is on “administrative leave and not assigned to a school since his arrest.” Yet the school system continues to pay Powell more than $5,000 a month.

“Usually personnel get their pay suspended and then if they are exonerated they move to get all the backpay paid up to them. In this case, they did an administrative review and found no probable cause for these charges and I’m assuming for that reason, they chose to keep paying him, but letting him not appear in school,” said Fox 8 legal analyst Joe Raspanti.

Court documents obtained by Fox 8 show that the matter came before a St. Bernard Judge 19 times since the June 2019 indictment. The court record shows there were multiple evidentiary hearings. District Attorney Perry Nicosia says at least five hearings pertaining to records were needed from Chalmette High and various medical institutions for the trial to move forward.

“All witnesses can be difficult. Juveniles are no exception. But at the end of the day, this is the accuser and whether or not that accuser is prepared to go forward to testify, that’s the whole case,” said Raspanti.

Nicosia says the repeated delays are due to the sensitivity of the case and evidence discovery and production.

“Our office would like to protect the privacy of this victim and others in cases like this. The sensitivity of these cases require special attention by the courts,” Nicosia said in a statement. “Discovery production has resulted in two writs to the appellate court that are now resolved. We now anticipate this case going to trial in April of this year.”

There have been five separate trial dates set and then reset for various reasons, including a Dec. 1 trial date which was postponed at the request of Powell’s attorneys.

“He’s wrongfully accused,” said Mike Ginart, Powell’s attorney. “We’ve never seen the girl in court. We hope she appears. We want to get this over with.”

Four years and four months after Powell’s arrest, Superintendent Doris Voitier’s office confirms that he remains on the payroll, drawing a yearly salary of $66,000. However, Powell is not serving as a counselor currently, after a panel for the Louisiana Department of Education restricted his license.

“An internal investigation was conducted, and we found no evidence to support the claim for misconduct. However, he was placed on administrative leave pending the outcome of the legal proceedings,” Voitier added in a statement.

Proceedings have now dragged on for more than four years.

“It’s a little unusual,” said Raspanti. “We’ve had COVID since then, so that changes the calculation a little bit, but it seems for cases like this there are a lot of moving parts. There’s a lot of he said she said, but I think this case is ripe to move forward.”

Nicosia says there were a number of cases that were held up due to COVID, but he says several felony trials, including Powell’s, are now moving forward.

The trial date for Powell is set for April 11.

Powell has been out of jail on a $50,000 bond since his 2018 arrest.

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