BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - One LSU police officer has resigned and four others have been disciplined after a recording surfaced of officers making degrading comments about the family of a missing LSU student and the investigation into his disappearance, LSU said Friday.
The officers had no idea their conversations were being recorded as they worked the case of missing LSU student, Michael Nickelotte, last year.
LSU officer, Kevin Scott, resigned as part of the investigation, LSU said. However, sources say Scott already planned to leave LSU prior to this incident. Four other officers were given "letters of caution" and ordered to undergo more training. They include Capt. Steve Kazusky, Lt. David Abeles, Officer Sara Drake, and Officer Chris Gresham.
While officers were inside Nickelotte's LSU campus apartment searching for clues last September, they confiscated several items, including a recorder that the student often used to record class lectures.
What the officers did not realize was the recorder is voice-activated and nearly two hours of their own conversations were recorded on the device. The recordings include the time that officers were inside Nickelotte's apartment, as well as when they were back at the LSU police station with the recording still in the possession of one of the officers.
Nickelotte, 21, of Covington, was missing for nearly two weeks before being found dead on September 29, 2017 in a wooded area near campus. His death was ruled a suicide. However, his family still questions the circumstances of his death.
After his death, the student's family was given his personal belongings. As they listened to his personal recorder, hoping to hear their son's voice again, they discovered the disturbing conversations.
At one point, an officer is talking about writing up the report on the case. "About to start to writing up a fu**ing report for ol' missing boy," the officer says. "Apparently daddy is losing his mind and so he called the president's office."
Another part of the recording focuses on a phone call the missing student's father made to LSU police:
The officers are also heard discussing the father's plea that they search the LSU lakes for his son:
While it's unclear the exact date the recording was made, it seems one of the officers had an opinion about what happened to the student. "At this point, I honestly think ole' boy went somewhere and off'd himself, killed himself," he said. "We just gotta' find him."
The family reported the incident to LSU early last month, then provided a copy of the recording to LSU officials about two weeks after that, LSU spokesman Ernie Ballard confirmed.
WAFB first asked about the recording on Monday, April 30. The university responded by email the following day, saying, "LSU was made aware of an audio recording by the Nickelotte family, but because of the sensitive nature of the situation, refers to the family for comment. LSU conducted an internal review, but it remains LSU policy not to comment on personnel matters."
WAFB responded to LSU's statement by submitting a public records request for a copy of the audio. LSU responded it would make the recording available and would also offer details on disciplinary action taken in the case. LSU first agreed to release the audio to WAFB on Wednesday, but then delayed that action, saying their legal team needed more time to review the recording. The recording was released late Friday afternoon along with details about the officers involved.
Since WAFB is not familiar with the voices of the officers involved, we have been unable to determine which officer said what on the recording. LSU withheld portions of the audio where the officers spoke about an ongoing criminal matter. We're told that portion involves officers discussing the hazing death of LSU student, Max Gruver, and which students might face criminal charges in the case.
The Nickelotte family was advised by LSU the audio was being released to a media outlet due to a public records request and the family did not object to the release. Reached by phone by WAFB Thursday, Mike Nickelotte Sr., the student's father, declined to discuss specifics of the recording, but confirmed he did not object to LSU making the audio available to WAFB.
LSU Police Chief Bart Thompson issued the following statement about the recording Friday afternoon: