Police monitor alleges leak in NOPD’s Vappie investigation; City attorney admits to ‘mishap’
NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - The city’s Independent Police Monitor sent federal and local officials a letter alleging that a leak has potentially compromised the NOPD’s internal investigation into officer Jeffrey Vappie.
But the City Attorney on Wednesday (March 15) took responsibility for a “mishap” that led to the materials -- which include recorded police interviews with Vappie and others -- getting out.
“We were made aware by a confidential source that all recorded interviews with witnesses within the investigation have been released to members of the public and the media,” monitor Stella Cziment wrote in a letter dated Monday and obtained by Fox 8. “The individual provided proof in the form of a flash drive. I took a screenshot of the contents of the flash drive and listened to the recorded interviews to verify that they were complete.”
More: Fox 8 obtains recordings from NOPD’s investigation into Officer Jeffrey Vappie
Cziment sent her letter to City Council president J.P. Morrell, the U.S. Department of Justice, U.S. District Judge Susie Morgan, federal consent decree monitor Jonathan Aronie and Keith Sanchez, the NOPD deputy superintendent who oversees its Public Integrity Bureau.
The PIB has for months been investigating Vappie, a former member of Mayor LaToya Cantrell’s security detail. Vappie has been reassigned pending the investigation into timesheet and duty irregularities uncovered in a series of investigations by Fox 8′s Lee Zurik.
A confidential source has provided Fox 8 with copies of the recorded interviews and materials cited by Cziment in her letter.
“These unredacted interviews were clearly released prior to the completion of the pending investigation and outside of NOPD protocol and possibly in violation of Louisiana law,” Cziment wrote. “The OIPM is not aware of any investigatory materials being reported stolen or compromised by the Public Integrity Bureau and does not understand how this breach occurred.”
Sanchez, in a joint statement issued with City Attorney Donesia Turner, denied that anyone within PIB was responsible for the leaked material.
“There is no breach of any kind within the Public Integrity Bureau,” Sanchez said in the statement.
Turner said in the statement that her office was responsible for a “mishap” that resulted in the materials getting out.
“Immediately upon receipt of such allegation, the administration began an internal investigation into these charges,” Turner said. “Our collective investigation revealed the referenced flash drive was inadvertently released by the Law Department to a HANO (Housing Authority of New Orleans) board member, in response to the city council’s directive to exchange records in advance of a special meeting.
“The Law Department has since taken steps to address this mishap and has placed additional safeguards into practice to prevent these types of incidents from happening again.”
What remains unclear is why the City Attorney’s office had possession of the recordings if the PIB investigation has not been completed. The NOPD did not answer Fox 8′s questions about who requested the recordings and why.
“The city attorney never should have had in its possession a copy of the Vappie investgation to begin with,” Morrell said. “The city attorney is not a district attorney on behalf of the NOPD, co-investigating a case.
“The fact that those two were sharing information about this investigation shows you that the investigation is absolutely compromised at this point.”
Fellow Councilmember Joe Giarrusso said the city attorney’s mea culpa “creates more questions than answers.”
“If the Public Integrity Bureau is not finished with this investigation, then the investigatory materials should only be in their hands,” Giarrusso said. “The city attorney’s office shouldn’t be in the middle of this. This is the reason we called for a third-party investigation.”
Rafael Goyeneche, president of the Metropolitan Crime Commission, said the revelation was “disturbing on multiple levels.”
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Vappie’s attorney did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Cziment asked Sanchez to produce an “audit trail” for all platforms where the recorded interviews and other evidence were housed, and for lists of all equipment used in the investigation and the NOPD personnel who had access to those devices, “including all city offices and officials.”
“Finally, we are requesting the NOPD review all security protocol and provide assurance that other investigatory information has not been inappropriately released,” Cziment wrote.
Sanchez and Turner jointly chided Cziment for sending her letter to the federal and local officials without consulting with them beforehand.
“We are disappointed the Office of Independent Police Monitor did not come to us first with such allegations, in order for us to work collaboratively to resolve this misunderstanding,” they said in their statement. “There is no benefit or value that could be derived by the PIB or the administration by releasing any interviews or investigatory materials to members of the public or media.”
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