PORT ALLEN, LA (WAFB) - A former Port Allen police officer filed a lawsuit in federal court alleging Port Allen Police Chief Esdron Brown is making decisions based on religion, including giving someone a promotion because “God told him to” do so.
“I was at Port Allen Police Department for two years,” said former officer, Robert Cannon.
Cannon left the department in April of 2018, saying he did not have a choice when it came to his former top cop, Chief Brown. “He’s using religion to his advantage. He is forcing people to follow his religious beliefs,” he said.
That’s the basis for the lawsuit Cannon filed in federal court last week, alleging character classes turned into “mandatory monthly meetings” and were “conducted by the West Gate Church pastor, in which all police officers in attendance were required to pray with the pastor,” according to the lawsuit.
"All the officers felt that the meetings not only were religious in nature, but they were designed for us to feel like we had to follow him as if we had to follow his religious beliefs and his character because we even prayed in the class," said Cannon.
“Public employers, that is a big, big no no from the standpoint that you have fundamentally separation of church and state in this country and that’s why you really cannot cross those lines,” said Jill Craft.
Craft is a Baton Rouge lawyer who has litigated in several discrimination lawsuits. She’s not Cannon’s attorney. WAFB asked her to review his lawsuit for our report. “I wouldn’t advocate ever for anybody, public or private employer, to say, ‘You know, God told me to do something in terms of a promotion or told me not to promote,’ because I think it comes very close to the line, if not crosses it,” said Craft.
That’s another allegation in the lawsuit. Chief Brown allegedly promoted another officer directly to the rank of lieutenant, skipping the ranks of corporal and sergeant. “He said, ‘Well, I was in my prayer closet one morning before I came to work because I go to my prayer closet and God told me to promote him and I said, but God he doesn’t have enough time and God said I want you to promote him anyways,’” said Cannon.
Cannon was a decorated officer Port Allen, serving as the firearms instructor and training coordinator among other things. But Cannon says Chief Brown turned his position at the police department into religious reasoning when he allegedly told Cannon by phone, “Chief Brown had blessed me with being a firearms instructor and he blessed me with being on the team. It was a blessing that he gave me. I said, ‘No Chief, I don’t think that’s how it works. No man can bless another man. That something we get.’”
Cannon and his wife have three boys, two of whom were having health issues, like hemophilia with one of the boys. Cannon says when he told his chief about the issues on two separate occasions, he was told, “He told me, ‘If you was walking in God’s perfect purpose like I am, God would hear your prayers and he would heal your kids and it is your fault that they’re going through the issues they’re going through,’” said Cannon.
"Where employers get in trouble is when they take their faith and beliefs and they try to voice them on someone else or try to make them a condition for their employment," said Craft.
Which is exactly what Cannon says it turned into at Port Allen, forcing him to leave and file a religious discrimination, hostile work environment, and retaliation lawsuit.
"If you disagreed with him, his Christian beliefs, then basically you were kind of ostracized," said Cannon.
WAFB did reach out to Chief Brown. He said due to pending legal action, WAFB had to reach out to the city attorney. Calls to the city attorney were never returned.