ST TAMMANY PARISH — An investigation into whether former St Tammany Parish Sheriff’s Deputy Bryan “Ricky” Steinert lied on a DWI arrest report led him to resign. And he’s now under investigation in Red River Parish for lying on his job application to work as a sheriff’s deputy there, just weeks after leaving behind his St Tammany badge.
Red River Parish Sheriff Glen Edwards said he hired Steinert last year after speaking with his St Tammany supervisor.
“Nothing was divulged to tell me he was anything but a stellar employee,” Edwards said.
Steinert left STPSO in May 2017 after cell phone video showed off-duty La. National Guard soldier Ryan Heyd passing parts of a field sobriety test, while Steinert’s report on the arrest said nothing of the sort.
Heyd’s friend recorded the field sobriety test with a cell phone camera and when it came to light, DA Warren Montgomery dropped the DWI charge against Heyd.
Despite an admission to his lieutenant that he had copied the probable cause from a previous DWI report, Sheriff Randy Smith said he did not think it was a crime, so the Sheriff’s Office conducted no criminal investigation into Steinert’s conduct.
Falsifying public records is a crime under Louisiana law.
Smith published a letter to the editor of the New Orleans Advocate Friday defending his decision not to investigate Steinert criminally, saying the Heyd arrest was valid because additional factors that establish probable cause can’t been seen in the video, such as the eye test and whether Heyd smelled of alcohol.
"Poor judgment and inappropriate behavior on Steinert's part? Absolutely. Criminal behavior? Not in my opinion," Smith wrote.
Metropolitan Crime Commission President Rafael Goyeneche disagrees.
“We shouldn't be talking about in March if this officer is going to be charged. I think it's a rather simple decision based on the evidence,” said Rafael Goyeneche, President of watchdog group the Metropolitan Crime Commission.
After news reports from WWL-TV and the New Orleans Advocate raised questions about the lack of an investigation, Smith said he and St Tammany/Washington Parish District Attorney Warren Montgomery decided it was in the public’s best interest to send the case to the La. Attorney General for review.
The Attorney General’s press secretary declined to comment on the nature of that review.
Steinert’s resignation documents are signed May 11, 2017, the day he was called in for questioning by an internal investigator for the sheriff's office.
“I don't want a bad cop on my force just like anybody else,” Smith said. When asked why Smith allowed Steinert to resign instead of firing him, Smith said, “He resigned before I could fire him.”
Less than a month later, Steinert applied to work at the Red River Sheriff’s Office.
Sheriff Edwards said Steinert “slipped through the cracks.”
On his job application, Steinert wrote, "I've never in my career had any write up or any disciplinary actions."
In a phone interview, Steinert told WWL-TV he left the St Tammany Sheriff's office for a better paying job in the oil field.
He began working as a deputy in Red River in August, just three months after his St Tammany resignation.
Steinert wrote he left "for personal reasons" on his resignation notice.
He listed two current members of the St Tammany Sheriff's Office as references, Lt. Donnie Palliser, identified as his supervisor on other documents, and Cpt. Wayne Wicker.
Sheriff Edwards said his office spoke with Palliser but Wicker didn’t return their call.
“There was no indication from prior employers and/or references of any pending internal and/or criminal investigations concerning applicant Bryan ‘Ricky’ Steinert at the time of hire,” Edwards said.
With policies about truthfulness in place at the St Tammany Sheriff’s Office, which Smith said he found Steinert violated, Goyeneche said he thinks there should be an internal investigation into Palliser as well.
“If that supervisor did not report [the investigation into Steinert] to the sheriff who was considering hiring Steinert, I think that’s something that needs to be investigated,” he said.
Smith declined an interview request for this story and he declined to answer questions about whether he has investigated Palliser.
And documents indicate Palliser did know about Steinert’s status.
While the internal affairs report into Steinert's DWI arrest of Ryan Heyd was provided to WWL-TV with the names of the STPSO investigators blacked out, it says Steinert admitted to his supervisor that he had fabricated the probable cause.
Palliser signed Steinert’s resignation notice as his supervisor.
“If the supervisor, if the lieutenant excluded meaningful information about the officer’s integrity at the time he left the department, that is an omission and it is the same as a lie,” Goyeneche said.
After the red river sheriff saw the news coverage of the Steinert investigation, he placed Steinert on administrative leave and is investigating whether Steinert lied on his job application.
Edwards said he also notified District Attorney Julie Jones, and they will have to review the cases Steinert has worked on since he was hired last year.
A new state law that took effect after Steinert’s resignation is designed to prevent problem cops from jumping to different departments.
It requires law enforcement to report involuntary resignations to the Louisiana Commission on Law Enforcement and Administration of Criminal Justice whenever an officer leaves the force, that way when other agencies are looking to hire, there’s a red flag.
“I think most administrators try to get the best people under the best circumstances and if I had known about this on the front end, I would have investigated that,” Edwards said.
St Tammany Sheriff’s Office paperwork doesn’t specify if an officer resigned under investigation. It only indicates if someone was voluntarily or involuntarily terminated.
“What you don't want to see is a cancer exported into another department and I've seen it too often in Louisiana,” Goyeneche said.