La. State Police superintendent steps down amid controversy

BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - One of Louisiana's most powerful men is stepping down from his post.

Col. Mike Edmonson, superintendent of Louisiana State Police, will retire effective March 24, ending a 37-year career with the department. His agency is currently embroiled in a luxury travel and overtime scandal.

"It was not the result of any one particular thing. it's a decision I made at this time. Is there a best time to make this? I don't know that. I think it was the right time," Edmonson said.

Governor John Bel Edwards ordered an audit of the agency, which has so far not been completed. The two reportedly had a series of meetings in recent days, though Edmonson said Edwards never actually asked him to resign. Then on Wednesday morning, Edmonson offered to retire, saying in a statement he hoped to allow the state and the governor to move past the controversy.

Over a career spanning nearly four decades, Edmonson became arguably one of the most familiar faces in Louisiana. "I don't know what life is without state police. I've been here since a little after graduating from LSU," Edmonson said.

A graduate of LSU, he had the dream job of any Tiger fan for 26 years - travelling with and protecting the LSU football coach, from Coach Stovall to Coach Miles. Then, in 2008, the election of Republican Bobby Jindal as governor meant big news for Mike Edmonson, who was appointed to be the new State Police commander.

Right away, Edmonson worked hard to bring together law enforcement from around the state, saying they all needed to work more closely together to achieve better results. Likely coming from his years as a spokesman for the department, the colonel offered a soothing voice during countless hurricanes and police emergencies around the state.

The colonel is appointed by and serves at the pleasure of the governor. Traditionally, the election of a new governor, especially one from a different political party meant the naming of a new colonel. However, Gov. John Bel Edwards, a Democrat, decided to keep the popular Edmonson at the top post.

"My dad and two governors pinned this badge on me, so it means a lot to me," Edmonson said. Widely liked by the public, Edmonson recently considered a run for lieutenant governor, but changed his mind.

However, his career included some road bumps along the way. In 2014, Edmonson made negative headlines for what many saw as an attempt at a secret backdoor deal to increase his own retirement. The amendment was tacked on to an unrelated bill on the last day of a legislative session. When the secret got out, facing widespread criticism, Edmonson said he would decline the increased retirement.

Then came the scandal that would bring an end to the Edmonson era.

It came to light last month that State Police sent 17 people to a four-day police conference in San Diego in 2016. Investigative reporter, Lee Zurik, exposed that four state troopers did not go directly to California. They took a detour. While driving a State Police vehicle, they stopped overnight in Las Vegas. Some of those troopers turned in expense reports containing what's believed to be falsified overtime hours for that trip.

"I'm embarrassed by it. I don't think it's right at all. I don't know that it's theft," Edmonson replied when asked by Zurik whether that was theft.

The colonel first denied having any knowledge of the questionable overtime hours, but then, it was uncovered that he had signed off on one of the reports. Edmonson said his assistant, believing the expenses were legitimate, had used a rubber stamp to put Edmonson's name on the expense report.

U.S. Senator John Kennedy had heard enough and called for the colonel's head. "I like the superintendent," Kennedy said. "But he has demonstrated that he is the tallest hog at the trough. And this is taxpayer money. The leadership over there needs to change. It's an embarrassment. They ought to hide their heads in a bag."

Edmonson said Wednesday that the issues with the timesheets will be fixed and policies will be updated accordingly. "If there's stays that were not approved, if time was not approved, it was done incorrectly. It's going to be fixed," he said.

Edmonson said he hopes people remember him as a public servant who cared about people. "Col. Mike Edmonson retired, Col. Mike Edmonson. I'm still Mike Edmonson," he said.

After Edmonson announced his retirement, the governor released a statement reading:

Today, after careful consideration and many discussions regarding the future of the state police, Col. Edmonson notified me of his retirement. Together, we believe this is the best approach for the department.  Throughout many natural and manmade disasters, Col. Edmonson has been a steady hand and strong leader for the people of Louisiana. I, and many of the people of Louisiana, have sought Col. Edmonson's counsel on numerous occasions [sic], and he has provided leadership and support when we've needed it most. Since taking office, I have relied on the men and women of the Louisiana State Police more than I would have liked, but I am proud to say that they have some of the most skilled and dedicated individuals serving in their ranks. Much of their success is due to Col. Edmonson's innovative thinking and concern for our state. I want to thank him for his more than three decades of service to the state of Louisiana and wish him well as he begins his retirement.

Kennedy released a statement on the retirement Wednesday afternoon. The statement reads:

Col. Edmonson made the right decision in retiring, and I thank him for his service. Unfortunately, his leadership had become a distraction during difficult times for Louisiana. I encourage the Louisiana Legislative Auditor's Office and the Division of Administration to continue their investigations into out-of-state travel by State Police so that much needed reforms can be made to safeguard taxpayer dollars.

Edmonson's retirement takes effect March 24. Edwards will then be tasked with naming an interim superintendent until a permanent replacement is found.

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