An investigative report into a sightseeing side trip four Louisiana State Troopers took on their way to a conference in San Diego alleges the former commander of the agency deleted text messages from one of the four troopers’ phones, potential evidence in the investigation.
The internal affairs report comes months after former Col. Mike Edmonson launched an administrative probe into the troopers’ trip and time sheets, in which three of the troopers claimed to work overtime hours they did not work, something confirmed in the report.
Last February, Edmonson denied knowing about the troopers’ plans to take the scenic route.
“Certainly, their taking the vehicle to San Diego, that was approved. The side trips were not. The ability for them to be paid overtime was certainly not. These were poor decisions made by good people,” Edmonson said in an interview.
Hyatt told investigators Edmonson signed off on the troopers decision to take the “northern” route to San Diego, instead of taking the shorter, southern route. Whether or not he explicitly signed off on the scenic stops along the way is unclear. Only Lt. Hyatt said Edmonson and Edmonson’s chief of staff, Lt. Col. Charlie Dupuy, signed off on the route.
But in the 300-plus page report, investigators concluded it was “obvious” that Edmonson knew about the side trip along the way, especially since text pictures exchanged with the wife of one of the troopers revealed their locations along the way.
The text pictures show Trooper Thurman Miller, Lt. Rodney Hyatt and Major Derrell Williams at the Hoover Dam and at the Grand Canyon.
Hyatt’s wife is also included in the picture. According to the report, Hyatt’s wife was the one exchanging texts with Edmonson, however, Edmonson’s cell phone did not show any text messages exchanged with anyone in the group during their travel.
But the report does say Edmonson used iMessage, a text-like service on iPhones that sends text messages through email.
There were no text messages from the trip on Hyatt’s phone either.
The report says Hyatt told investigators Edmonson deleted them.
On the eve of his retirement, Hyatt said Edmonson, "…took his cell phone and went to the settings feature and manipulated the settings to delete any texts/messages older than 30 days."
Edmonson did not return a call seeking comment.
"That's particularly disturbing that anyone in law enforcement, nonetheless, the most prestigious law enforcement agency in the state, would destroy evidence and information pertinent to an investigation,” said Rafael Goyeneche, President of the Metropolitan Crime Commission.
The side trip cost taxpayers at least $30,000 in added expenses and improperly-billed overtime.
In March, Hyatt reimbursed the state more than $1,300.
From the start, Goyeneche has said this whole case needed to be handled as a criminal investigation, not an administrative one.
But it was Edmonson who decided to launch an administrative, internal probe instead of a criminal one.
“One of the things that's disturbing about this is that these investigators were reporting back to Mike Edmonson, so if he has any criminal exposure, he is now privy to what they're uncovering. In fact, he was requested not one time but two times to give statements by his own investigators and he declined,” Goyeneche said.
The results of the internal investigation were initially released last month, but the full report on the investigation was just released Thursday. Lt. Rodney Hyatt was demoted to sergeant. Master Trooper Thurman Miller received a letter of reprimand and State Police said Trooper Alexandr Nezgodinsky was "counseled".
The Louisiana Legislative Auditor has been investigating state police travel for months, and sources say that audit is coming to a close.