12/07/2007

NOPD chief defends firing officer

By Michael Kunzelman
The Associated Press

NEW ORLEANS — This city’s police superintendent on Thursday defended his decision to fire an officer who was videotaped beating a man in the French Quarter, even though the ex-officer was cleared of criminal charges.

The fired officer, Robert Evangelist, wants to return to his old job with back pay. But Superintendent Warren Riley said during a hearing in Evangelist’s appeal that the officer was fired two years ago because he violated department policy.

"It was beyond what was necessary for a person that, in my opinion, did not clearly resist," Riley told reporters outside the hearing room shortly after his testimony.

Frank DeSalvo, Evangelist’s attorney, said his client did nothing wrong when he and other officers arrested retired schoolteacher Robert Davis. The arrest was videotaped by an Associated Press Television News crew the night of Oct. 8, 2005, a little more than two months after Hurricane Katrina.

The videotape shows Evangelist kneeing and punching Davis in the torso several times.

"It just got sensationalized, that’s all," DeSalvo said before the hearing. "This was not a Rodney King beating."

Evangelist testified that he feared Davis was drunk and armed when he and the others wrestled him to the ground.

"This man was out of control. He would not let us handcuff him, no matter what we did," Evangelist said.

A three-member panel is expected to rule on Evangelist’s appeal after the hearing officer presents a report on his findings. It could be several months before the ruling, one his lawyers said.

In July, a state judge in New Orleans acquitted Evangelist, then 37, of second-degree battery and false imprisonment.

Davis, 66, has sued the police department. At the hearing he identified Evangelist as one of the officers who beat him the night he was arrested. But he could give few details of his treatment, saying he was knocked out soon after it began.

"It happened so fast. I don’t recall all the details," Davis said.

Davis was arrested that night on charges including public intoxication and resisting arrest but said he had not been drinking; the charges were later dropped.

"There was no logical reason for them to stop me. Period. I had not violated any law," Davis testified.

Police Sgt. Howard Gay, an investigator for the police Public Integrity Bureau, testified that the tape showed Evangelist kneeing and kicking Davis. Gay said he disagreed with Evangelist that the level of force was necessary or appropriate.

"You wouldn't have done what he did if you were there?" Eric Hessler, an attorney for Evangelist asked

"No, I would not have," Gay said.

DeSalvo claims the department rushed to judgment in firing Evangelist and Lance Schilling, another officer who was charged with beating Davis. Schilling committed suicide June 10.

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