SPRINGFIELD, LA (WAFB) - Despite agreeing to permanently resign his position to avoid jail, the chief of the Springfield Police Department has returned to his old job. Springfield Police Chief James Jones agreed to the deal in April 2015 in lieu of going to trial, on multiple felony charges. David Caldwell, a prosecutor with the Attorney General's Office, says Jones returning as top cop sends a poor message to the rest of the country.
"Jimmy Jones' reinstatement as police chief violates not only the spirit of the plea deal, but also the basic tenants of common sense and good judgment on the part of those that decided to rehire him," said Caldwell.
James Jones and Springfield Mayor Charles Martin were indicted in 2012 for allegedly using their positions to help reduce a woman's DWI charge. The duo faced four felonies each. They were charged with obstruction of justice, criminal conspiracy to obstruct justice, injuring public records and criminal conspiracy to injure public records.
In April 2011, a then Springfield police officer pulled over a woman named Tyra Jones for allegedly driving the wrong way along LA 22 in Livingston Parish. Records show Jones blew a 0.185 BAC, which is more than twice the legal limit.
According to investigators, at the request of the mayor, the chief asked his officer to reduce the DWI charge to a lesser charge of reckless operation. Fearing retaliation, the officer reduced the DWI to a reckless operation citation.
Chief Jones pleaded guilty to one count of criminal mischief, which is a misdemeanor. The four felony charges against him were dropped. As part of the plea deal, he had to immediately resign his position as police chief. He also has to serve 32 hours of community service and one year of probation. After a year of probation, he has the option to request an expungement from the court.
"Having a chief law enforcement officer who has pleaded guilty to destroying evidence taints the entire department in future criminal investigations and exposes the town to potential future civil liability, should there be future allegations of civil rights violations. A single adverse civil judgment would decimate this idyllic town. It also sends a very poor message to the rest of the country about how business is done in Louisiana," said Caldwell.
The maximum sentence for the criminal mischief charge is six months in jail or a fine of up to $500, but was suspended for Jones.
The position of Police Chief is appointed. In May, Steve Meyers was named Interim Police Chief of Springfield after a unanimous vote by the town council.
"They waited until the week before the change of administration so that I wouldn't have time to file a motion and have it heard personally in the hopes that the new administration would be indifferent, and given the court's comments on the record at sentencing I'm not sure that the State would prevail on any request for modification or to rescind the plea deal," said Caldwell.
In June 2015, Charles Martin pleaded guilty to criminal mischief, instead of standing trial. As part of the deal from the Office of the Louisiana Attorney General, Martin was forced to resign and will not be able to seek re-election.