Todd Gagnard, a former Thibodaux Police Department (TPD) captain who was fired earlier this year and was aiming to prove there was no just cause for his termination, decided to withdraw his appeal yesterday afternoon.
Wednesday’s dismissal came after the Civil Service Board heard testimony on Tuesday given by Thibodaux Police Chief Bryan Zeringue and Ricky Ross, Internal Affairs (IA) detective, regarding an explicit photograph that allegedly shows a lieutenant committing malfeasance, two IA investigations on Gagnard and if the termination of Gagnard was done by the book.
One of the main factors in the hearing was a photograph, which according to the testimony that was given, is of Lt. Clint Dempster, the public information officer for the Thibodaux Police Department (TPD).
Although he said he hasn’t seen it but had it described to him, according to Stephen Haedicke, Gagnard’s counsel, the picture shows Dempster partially clothed in uniform after just performing a sexual act while on duty. Zeringue said from what he saw, Dempster wasn’t in uniform, and he didn’t know if Dempster was on duty or not. He also noted the photographed incident occurred before he became chief.
According to Zeringue, Gagnard did not report the misconduct (the photograph) to him, which is one of the TPD policies he failed to adhere to that led to his termination. Although he didn’t testify on Tuesday, Gagnard has said in the past that the reason he didn’t report it to Zeringue was because of the chief’s relationship with Dempster and Zeringue.
“…My decision not to report the misconduct directly to the Chief was the right decision. The Chief is related to the Lieutenant in question, and has covered up his misconduct for the past five years. So, for that reason, I reported the misconduct and crimes to an outside agency,” reads a June 4 Facebook post by Gagnard.
According to Haedicke, Gagnard was also scared to report the misconduct because it was brought to Ross years prior by a woman — who, according to Haedicke, told Ross she had inappropriate pictures of Dempster in uniform and phone records that show he was on the phone with her “all-night-long and all-day” while he was on duty.
“The alleged wrongdoing [by Gagnard] is that he didn’t report something that the Internal Affairs people already knew, that Chief Zeringue already knew, in which they did nothing about. And then they fire him for not reporting that misconduct about this picture,” Haedicke said. “That’s just unfair. That’s not just.”
Ross did not deny that conversation, but he said that happened under former Thibodaux Police Chief Scott Silveri, not Zeringue. He also said he “reported it up” and he does not decide when to open an Internal Affairs investigation; it’s up to the police chief.
Haedicke argued that there was a “double standard” in the department and nothing would have happened to Dempster and questioned why an internal investigation into Dempster wasn’t initiated then.
Zeringue confirmed that he and Dempster are distant relatives (fourth cousins); however, he said he first learned of the photograph in November of 2019, when Ross contacted him about it. After hearing the picture was circulating, Zeringue said, Dempster wanted to pursue the person that was disseminating the photograph, and that’s when the Lafourche Parish Sheriff’s Office (LPSO) got involved.
A search warrant was issued on Gagnard’s home on December 6, 2020 by LPSO in reference to the photograph, and officers discovered the image on his phone, according to testimony by Ross, who led the IA investigations into Gagnard.
According to Ross, Gagnard and his wife sought the picture from the aforementioned who contained it, alluding that it was for an investigation, and the woman went to Gagnard’s house and gave the picture to his wife. Gagnard said his wife showed him the picture and described it, Ross said, and Gagnard thought it was funny.
“She [Gagnard’s wife] also gave the picture to another person who is deceased, which is, in and of itself, a crime,” said Ross, who added that’s why Gagnard’s wife is currently facing criminal charges. “…And he didn’t report back.”
Ross also said when he interviewed Gagnard, he didn’t know he possessed the photograph, but he later found out through the LPSO investigation.
Another reason for termination was that Gagnard sought retaliation for a 2019 IA investigation, asking who submitted the report on him and calling officers “rats,” Zeringue said he found out through Ross’s 2020 investigation, which Ross later confirmed during his testimony.
The 2019 IA investigation resulted in ‘sustained, no discipline,’ meaning “there’s sufficient evidence to establish that the incident did occur, but the facts and circumstances are such of nature that formal discipline is not warranted,” according to Zeringue.
Haedicke played a recording of an interview between Gagnard and Ross, during which Ross told Gagnard he had a right to know who had reported him at the end of the 2019 investigation. Ross did not deny telling him this; however, he said what he meant was if it is ‘sustained with discipline,’ it then becomes public record, not if it is ‘sustained, no discipline.’ He also said at the time he told him that he didn’t know it would be ‘sustained, no discipline,’ as that was later decided by Zeringue.
Ross said Gagnard asked him who reported him and Ross told him to ask Zeringue. According to Ross, Zeringue said Gagnard never asked him who reported him but was still trying to find out who did it. Ross said he told Dempster to tell Gagnard that it was him who reported and why he did it.
“He [Dempster] did. They made up; they were friends,” he continued. “But during my second investigation I found out that when he [Gagnard] was hugging his neck, all of this other stuff with the picture…was already rolling; it was already started. The only retaliation was not against him [Gagnard] — it was against Lt. Dempster.”
Ross also noted that in an interview, Gagnard said he asked Zeringue who reported him, but Zeringue changed the subject. Ross said he believed Zeringue, however.
At the hearing, it was briefly touched on what exactly was behind the 2019 IA investigation into Gagnard as Danny Cavell, representing the City of Thibodaux, objected whenever the topic was brought up. He said it isn’t relevant to the termination of Gagnard. However, Haedicke said the 2019 IA investigation was relevant because it was part of a planned ongoing attempt to terminate Gagnard.
Zeringue said that the first investigation had no bearing on the 2020 investigation –which led to Gagnard’s termination.
Ross and Zeringue remained adamant that everything was done by the book throughout their testimonies on Tuesday, including providing Gagnard the proper documentation — which Cavell presented at the hearing — and notifying him accordingly. Cavell argued that there was just cause for termination because Gagnard violated TPD polices and procedures.
According to the procedure, the two have no discussion about an ongoing IA investigation, they said, which was done in Gagnard’s case. After Ross presents the evidence, which includes recorded interviews, and Zeringue gives the subject an opportunity to give his side of the story in a Loudermill hearing, Zeringue then makes his decision, according to policy, which they noted was also done.
According to testimony, Zeringue recommended that Gagnard, who served for 25 years as a police officer, retire; when Gagnard did not, he was terminated. Haedicke also questioned if Zeringue’s mind was already made up before the Loudermill hearing, as the disciplinary document was already filled out for retirement. Ross answered the notion, saying that the paperwork isn’t official until Zeringue signs it and he has seen Zeringue change his mind on disciplinary action after hearing from the subject of the investigation.
Ross also testified that he and Gagnard were friends. “After I interviewed Captain Gagnard that night, I wept and hugged his neck,” he said.
Dempster and other members of the Thibodaux Police Department were scheduled to testify, but Gagnard’s decision to drop his appeal was announced to the board at the beginning of Wednesday’s proceedings.
Gagnard did not say why he was dismissing his appeal. Haedicke declined to comment.
Zeringue said the City of Thibodaux has no comments at this time.
“He withdrew his appeal,” Cavell told the Times. “And we have no objections.”