Zurik: Officer Vappie investigation recordings raise questions about time spent with Mayor Cantrell in Pontalba apartment
NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - The New Orleans Independent Police Monitor is concerned that the New Orleans Police Department’s investigation into Officer Jeffrey Vappie could be compromised.
The City Attorney and the NOPD say the city’s law department inadvertently released recordings to a Housing Authority (HANO) board member.
Fox 8 obtained several hours of interviews from a Public Integrity Bureau investigation. Officer Vappie was interviewed for nearly four hours and repeatedly referred to Mayor LaToya Cantrell as his supervisor, but it’s clear investigators wanted to know if a more personal relationship existed between the mayor and a member of her executive protection team.
“Can you describe the relationship that you have with your protectee?” an NOPD interviewer asked Vappie.
“Professional,” Vappie answered pointedly.
A series of Fox 8 investigations show Vappie spending long hours, both on and off duty, inside the city-owned French Quarter Upper Pontalba Apartment. Video from a public security camera operated by the city showed Vappie entered often and was seen on the balcony watering plants.
The video showed Mayor Cantrell and Vappie exercising together in the morning, sometimes before Vappie clocked in to protect her.
“So did Robert Monlyn ever accompany you when you went jogging or working (out) before or after, with the mayor?” a PIB interviewer asks.
Vappie replies “no.”
The video shows Vappie arriving at the Pontalba apartment in workout clothes, then hours later leaving in a different outfit, something he admitted he never did when he was previously on the executive protection team for former mayor Ray Nagin.
“Did you ever go inside of any apartment or any place that Mayor Nagin was at and change clothes?” the interviewer asked.
Vappie replies, “no.”
“Well, for the mayor’s ball. Myself and the other guys change inside the Pontalba,” Vappie said.
“You see what that looks like, bruh?” the interviewer asks.
“Uh uh,” Vappie replies.
In 45 days of video Fox 8 reviewed, Vappie was found entering the French Quarter apartment on 27 of them.
However, in the interview, Vappie admitted he had never been inside Mayor Cantrell’s home in the Broadmoor neighborhood.
“Did you ever have an opportunity to go inside the house for any reason?” the interviewer asks.
“No,” Vappie replies.
“Why not?” the interviewer asks.
“She didn’t want us in there,” Vappie replied. “Never been in that location.”
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NOPD investigators also interviewed other members of the mayor’s executive protection team, like now-retired Orleans Sheriff Deputy Charles Ellis.
“Do you think Vappie crossed the line with the mayor? In your own personal opinion,” the interviewer asks.
“I think he broke protocol,” Ellis said. “I can say that. I can say that. Now crossing with the mayor, I think you gotta ask the mayor.”
“Do you think the actions you saw in the news were a discredit to your profession, executive protection?” the interviewer asks.
“Absolutely. Absolutely. One hundred percent yes,” Ellis said.
“Do you see any reason why he should have walked in in jogging clothes and walked out in a suit?” the interviewer asks.
“I don’t know what the reason is,” Ellis responded.
“Have you ever went and worked out with the mayor?” the interviewer asks.
“No,” Ellis replied.
Ellis says he was approached about Vappie and the mayor’s alleged relationship.
“What I noticed about him was that he was being overly charismatic with the mayor,” Ellis begins. “Like, she’d go to eat dinner, one of her favorite places was Houston’s. And protocol, I know what the protocol is. You do sit with the principal at the table. Because if you’re sitting with your principal at the table, who’s watching your back? You see? So I noticed that, and I brought that to his attention. He said he agreed and he said ‘yeah I see how that could look.’”
Ellis said he brought up the possible relationship with the other member of the executive protection team, Robert Monlyn and Louis Martinez.
“They all noticed it. So we were like ‘what is this dude doing?’” Ellis explained. “They know you don’t do that. But you still leave yourself open to say ‘with all due respect m’am, no, because of my position.’”
Monlyn never mentioned having a conversation with the other members, and told interviewers that at the time he never suspected a personal relationship going on. He said he didn’t witness any improper behavior, but told the NOPD investigator Vappie’s actions embarrassed the unit.
“Do you feel like he crossed the line of professionalism with his protection duties?” the interviewer asks.
“The way it looks, yeah,” Monlyn said. “It looked bad.”
The NOPD investigator concluded his interview with Vappie by asking if he violated a policy that does not allow for personal relationships with supervisors.
“Is there a personal relationship based on the definition that’s in this policy?” the interviewer asks.
“No,” Vappie replies.
The NOPD asked Fox 8 not the publish the recordings until the investigation was complete. Fox 8 asked the NOPD why the recordings were turned over to the city attorney if the investigation was not complete. The NOPD said the city attorney’s office represents PIB in all investigations and referred us to the city attorney for further questions.
New Orleans City Council President J.P. Morrell had similar questions about why the city attorney had the audio recordings.
Morrell told Fox 8 he believes the investigation has been compromised and thinks an outside agency should take over.
More: Police monitor alleges leak in NOPD’s Vappie investigation; City attorney admits to ‘mishap’
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