BATON ROUGE, La.— With a cloud of controversy surrounding the agency he has commanded for more than nine years, Louisiana State Police Colonel Mike Edmonson announced Wednesday he will retire.
Edmonson said his last day will be Friday, March 24, after 36 years with the state’s premier law enforcement agency.
Edmonson has not shied away from having his troopers take on high-profile investigations like the Baton Rouge police shooting in which 6 officers were ambushed in 2016. He has led the state police through hurricanes and devastating floods, but Edmonson will not weather the recent storm of controversy surrounding him and some of his top brass.
“I've had a conversation with my family, a conversation with my dad, a very emotional one, and when I told him and watched his raw emotions it really told me it was time to go home,” the Alexandria native said Wednesday.
But Edmonson had also been talking regularly with Governor John Bel Edwards after The New Orleans Advocate and WWL-TV exposed a side trip troopers took to San Diego in a state-owned SUV, charging the state overtime for hours they may not have worked.
Last week, in a separate probe, a federal grand jury subpoenaed at least a dozen other troopers about the spending of the Louisiana State Troopers Association after Executive Director David Young admitted to the Louisiana Board of Ethics that he illegally made thousands of dollars of campaign contributions to political candidates, later getting reimbursed by the tax-exempt LSTA.
Despite all that, Edmonson said Governor Edwards did not ask him to leave his position with the state police.
“He did not ask me to resign. He did not ask me to step aside. He did not ask me to retire. He asked me what's best for Mike Edmonson and what's best for state police,” Edmonson said.
Governor Edwards wouldn't take questions about Edmonson’s retirement announcement at a previously-scheduled ribbon cutting ceremony for an expansion of Baton Rouge Community College, but in a joint statement with Edmonson released earlier in the day, Edwards thanked Edmonson for his three decades of service and said, "Together we believe this is the best approach for the department."
First appointed by Republican Governor Bobby Jindal, Democratic Governor Edwards kept Edmonson on, making Edmonson the person who has held the post the longest in the state's history.
Edmonson first became a public face as the state police body guard assigned to protect LSU football coaches dating back to the 1980s.
He stood next to then-head coach Nick Saban when LSU received the national college football title in 2003.
More recently, Edmonson helped work out a deal to make the state police a visible supplement to the manpower-strapped NOPD in the French Quarter.
“I'm also proud of this badge. My dad and two governors pinned this badge on me. So, to know that, to feel that, to see that has been a great moment for me,” Edmonson said.
Political and law enforcement leaders from around the state wished Edmonson well upon hearing news of his planned retirement.
New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu and NOPD Superintendent Michael Harrison issued a statement, "Under his leadership, the Louisiana State Police and the New Orleans Police Department have benefited from an effective and healthy partnership. We wish him all the best in his future endeavors."
According to sources, the talk of Edmonson’s retirement and the conversations between Edmonson and Gov. Edwards about it began after The New Orleans Advocate and WWL-TV first exposed a side trip four troopers took to Las Vegas and the Grand Canyon on their way to a conference in San Diego.
Edmonson’s Chief of Staff, Lt. Col. Charlie Dupuy signed off on the troopers use of his assigned state-owned SUV.
Other high-ranking members of the state police approved time sheets of three troopers involved who claimed they worked overtime on days that should have required limited travel time. Documents show they also were paid overtime for late nights in San Diego when conference events wrapped up in the late afternoon.
Edmonson has said he knew the troopers were driving the SUV in order to have transportation in San Diego for state police employees.
Travel receipts show he and others frequently used Uber to get around, not that SUV.
The 4 troopers’ detour also took them to the Grand Canyon and the Palazzo Hotel in Las Vegas, and Edmonson denied knowledge that his troopers were going to take the trip and said they should not have charged the state overtime, but that they should’ve received compensatory time for their travel.
Governor Edwards ordered his Division of Administration to conduct a sweeping audit of state police travel after the published reports and this week, the Louisiana Legislative Auditor announced plans to look into it as well.
When asked whether there should be a criminal investigation, Edmonson said the auditors should make a recommendation about it to state police. He called the troopers on the side trip “good people.”
“I don't see any intent by those individuals, but I know what the expectation is by the public that we find out what's wrong, we fix it and we move on,” Edmonson said Wednesday.
But anti-corruption watchdog group the Metropolitan Crime Commission is urging prosecutors to investigate.
“This needs to be reviewed internally by the state police and externally and whatever the investigation uncovers it needs to be presented to a prosecutor to determine if there's any criminal violations,” said MCC President Rafael Goyeneche.
Last week, news of a separate federal investigation also broke after more than a dozen troopers received subpoenas to appear before a grand jury. Sources close to the investigation said grand jurors are looking at the spending of the Louisiana State Troopers Association, an outside labor group made up of state troopers.
Edmonson said he will continue to command the state police until next Friday, assisting Governor Edwards in choosing an interim replacement.
“The governor said I'll be able to work with him and his staff to make sure we get the right person in there. But it will be a smooth transition,” Edmonson said.
By law, the governor must choose someone within state police.
Edwards said he plans to appoint an interim commander and that he will conduct an extensive search for a permanent one.