POWERPLAY: Baker officer arrested in alleged ‘witch hunt’ led by police chief

POWERPLAY: Baker officer arrested in alleged ‘witch hunt’ led by police chief
A former Baker police officer was arrested last year in a situation that one of his colleagues described as a “witch hunt” and personal vendetta led by the police chief and his captain.

BAKER, LA (WAFB) - A former Baker Police officer was arrested in 2017 in a situation that one of his colleagues describes as a “witch hunt” and personal vendetta led by the police chief and his captain.

POWERPLAY: Baker officer arrested in alleged ‘witch hunt’ led by police chief

On April 14, 2017, Sgt. Adam Procell and Ofc. Jordan Baronich responded to an alarm going off at Advantage Charter Academy.

Both officers had their body cameras rolling when they arrived on the school’s campus. About 15 minutes into the call, they heard gunfire, but could not see anyone shooting.

Shortly thereafter, they received a radio transmission from central dispatch, alerting the officers that a witness saw some suspicious people running from a nearby Walmart parking lot.

“She’s advising that she saw some subjects running through the parking lot,” the dispatcher said, as heard in the body camera footage, “And the windows at the Walmart have been shot out.”

Procell and Baronich called for backup, then began searching some nearby woods as additional police units arrived on scene. In the woods, the officers found three homeless people, who were eventually arrested and taken to the police station for questioning. At the time, Det. Louis Hamilton arrived and took control of the scene as the lead investigator.

But an initial problem with the three homeless suspects was the police had not found a firearm on or near them. So Procell and Baronich widened their search, speaking to homeowners or witnesses in the area in an effort to track down the gun. That’s when they came upon a house on Lake Mary Drive, less than half a mile away from the Walmart.

Son of a Sheriff

It was the home of Ben Gautreaux, the son of East Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff Sid Gautreaux.

“Y’all heard some gunshots?” Procell asked the man.

“Yeah,” Gautreaux responded. “[We were] shooting at a snake.”

Procell explained to Gautreaux there were windows shot out at the Walmart right around the same time he was reportedly shooting at a snake.

Gautreaux let the officers inside and walked them to his backyard to show them where he shot at the snake. Also at the home were Gautreaux’s son and nephew, both of whom are minors.

“We were shooting right here at a f**cking snake,” he repeated.

The next bits of recorded dialogue are difficult to understand, but Gautreaux refers to all the clutter in his backyard, saying he builds things out there.

“I be out here building s**t,” Gautreaux said, following up with additional details that are inaudible.

The next clear statement heard on the recording lies at the center of the internal investigation and criminal prosecution of Sgt. Procell. It’s a six-word response Procell made after Gautreaux talked about building things in his backyard: “I’m not going to say nothing.”

Procell clarified his statement in an interview with the 9News Investigators.

“That response was to his comment about the backyard, not to me trying to conceal anything,” he said.

The remainder of the body camera footage shows the officers asking Gautreaux more questions about how he shot his rifle. Gautraux demonstrated where he was standing and how he aimed the rifle.

He told the officers he shot “at least 10” rounds of ammunition.

Both officers then told Gautreaux he could technically be charged with illegal discharge of a firearm within city limits. Gautreaux replied, saying he didn’t realize that law still applied when shooting at vermin on his own property.

“I’ve shot guns here all my [life],” he said. “Even if I got a snake, I can’t shoot it?”

“Yeah, it’s some B.S.,” Procell responded.

Before leaving the house, Procell mentioned to Gautreaux a detective may come to speak to him at a later time.

Recusal

After leaving the house, Procell turned off his body camera and called Hamilton to tell him about the conversation with Gautreaux. He also alerted his captain and Police Chief Carl Dunn about the situation.

In his interview with WAFB, Procell said Chief Dunn called him back and ordered him to bring Gautreaux and the two minors in for questioning and seize their weapons.

This was a bit of an issue for Procell, who was trying to get a job at the East Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff’s Office, so he asked his partner to take the lead for the remainder of the call.

With his body camera back on, he and Baronich returned to the scene.

“We need to get that firearm that was used,” Procell said to one of the minors at Gautreaux’s house. “We believe that one of the projectiles ricocheted and actually hit somebody's window at the Walmart.”

Procell then asked his partner, Baronich, to work the next portion: “You mind working this portion for me? Because it may all be linked and I can’t.”

Gautreaux and the two minors were ordered to go to the Baker Police Department to be questioned. Meanwhile, the three homeless people arrested earlier that evening were cleared and released.

Detective Hamilton later cited Gautreaux with a misdemeanor and allowed him and the two minors to go home.

As for Sgt. Procell, his shift finally ended, but his night was far from over. He was called in to debrief Detective Hamilton and Capt. Kelvin Miller, an act that was supposed to be an informal meeting of an officer filling in his superiors.

‘Witch Hunt’

Detective Hamilton told the 9News Investigators the real reason for the meeting.

“Little did I know, at the end of the briefing, Captain Miller had secretly recorded Adam Procell without my knowledge, which prompted concern for me, reservations,” Hamilton said. “If you’re going to secretly record him, if you’re going to record him period, you should at least read him his officer’s bill of rights so he’s aware this is not a debriefing. Now it’s turned into an interview.”

In the secretly recorded meeting, Miller got Procell to disclose his desire to work at the sheriff’s office, then took the recording to the police chief, prompting a criminal investigation and warrant for Procell’s arrest, Hamilton said.

“It never should have got to this point,” Hamilton said. “It was almost like a witch hunt.”

Chief Dunn told Hamilton to find and arrest Procell and even instructed him on how to write the warrant, he said.

“Chief Carl K. Dunn and Capt. Kelvin Miller, chief of detectives of the Baker Police Department advised me both that the warrant needed to be written in a manner that would have the warrant signed by a judge and Adam Procell would be arrested,” he said.

The 9News Investigators obtained a copy of the warrant that Hamilton said he was forced to write in a way that omitted specific facts and twisted Procell’s words.

The center of the case against Procell rests upon what he actually meant when he told Gautreaux he wouldn’t say anything. Was Procell referring to the messy backyard or something else he saw that may have incriminated the sheriff’s son?

Judge Mike Erwin signed the arrest warrant and Procell was charged with felony malfeasance in office and obstruction of justice.

“It was unreal to me,” Procell said in his later interview. “I even told Captain Miller at the time, ‘Are you joking?’ I couldn’t believe it.”

Procell’s lawyer, Chris Alexander, asked Chief Dunn if his client could turn himself in the next morning.

“They adamantly refused,” Alexander said.

“He was to be brought in in leg irons and shackles and handcuffs,” Hamilton said. “He was supposed to have what they call a perp walk... Public embarrassment and shame, I can only assume.”

But Procell was not humiliated. He eventually was allowed to turn himself in the next morning.

“The accusations were that I attempted to conceal evidence and hinder their investigation by apparently not putting the suspects in handcuffs,” Procell said.

Hamilton said Chief Dunn took a big interest in the case and personally reviewed the evidence.

“To his opinion, Adam Procell was already guilty,” Hamilton said.

But Hamilton believes Procell did nothing wrong, and the Baker Police Department’s own internal affairs division also cleared him of wrongdoing.

Nonetheless, the chief fired him, and the mayor of Baker signed Procell’s termination letter in October, accusing him of violating department policy by making a false statement and violating criminal laws.

The Right Thing?

Procell believes there were politics at play throughout the whole ordeal.

“I feel it's a culmination of a lot of things,” he said. “I believe it is somewhat politically motivated, having worked for the previous administration and it was a nasty political campaign.”

In November, the criminal case against Procell reached District Attorney Hillar Moore’s office. Moore said he dismissed the charges for lack of evidence.

Moore even said Procell did the right thing by recusing himself from the case due to his interest in working for the sheriff’s office. “It appeared he did what you would want him to do,” the DA said. “He said things and did things you would want him to do.”

This past summer, Procell appealed his termination.

At the appeal hearing, Ben Gautreaux testified to the question at the center of the case. “That’s because of how messy my backyard was,” he said. “It was a wreck. I told him, ‘Sorry for the mess back here.’ He said, ‘Don’t worry, I ain’t saying nothing.’”

Procell’s partner, Baronich, also testified in his defense when asked if he ever observed Procell do anything to conceal any part of the incident from anyone. “No, sir,” Baronich said. “He was very forthcoming.”

Detective Hamilton eventually quit his job at the Baker Police Department after another situation unfolded in a different case. He said Chief Dunn forced him to apply specific charges against a murder suspect who was still being questioned. He now works for the Iberville Parish Sheriff’s Office.

When asked what he would like to tell Chief Dunn today, Hamilton said: “It’s time for a change. The way you’re running the department causes a lot of confusion, chaos, distrust among officers, a lack of trust and we lose sight of the bigger picture: serving and protecting the community the right way."

In response to what Procell would like to tell Chief Dunn, Procell said: “I really don’t have anything nice to say, so I’m just not going to say anything at all. I’m going to let his actions speak for themselves and let the community make their own determination on how they perceive him.”

Because he was terminated from Baker, Procell lost any opportunity of a job with the East Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff’s Office.

The results of Procell’s appeal hearing will be announced Thursday. The hearing will determine whether or not he will get his job back.

The Baker Police Union issued a statement in support of Procell:

We as the Baker Union of Police had the opportunity to witness the civil service appeal hearing for Sergeant Adam Procell and was allowed the opportunity to see evidence and hear testimony regarding this matter. The evidence and testimony at the hearing showed convincingly what we already knew: Sergeant Adam Procell did nothing wrong, and his reputation deserves to be fully vindicated.

The 9News Investigators reached out to Chief Dunn numerous times, but he said he would interview with any reporter other than Kiran. WAFB has a long-standing policy of not allowing the person being interviewed to pick who the reporter on a story is.

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