THE INVESTIGATORS: Former officer accused of stealing evidence punished at other agency for similar wrongdoing
BATON ROUGE, La. (WAFB) - The former Baton Rouge Police Department officer arrested this week, accused of stealing guns he was supposed to take off the streets, got in more trouble at another agency, the 9News Investigators have uncovered. The evidence the former officer is accused of stealing is piling up, and now, a law enforcement expert wants to know why he keeps getting hired.
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The former officer, Benjamin Zeringue’s tricky relationship with evidence continued long after he allegedly stole guns from BRPD that he was supposed to take off the streets. The former cop was arrested and accused of dumping those guns back in April. Those guns were supposed to be in the BRPD evidence locker. According to disciplinary records, he also had a problem turning in evidence when he worked for the West Feliciana Sheriff’s Office. At that agency, he got in trouble for lifting drugs that should have gone into evidence.
In January last year, the records show he took synthetic marijuana off a suspect he arrested. When the case went to court months later in June 2021, those drugs were missing despite his report saying he turned them in. Law enforcement expert Dr. Andrew Scott calls it troubling.
“Anytime that you have a trusted official such as a law enforcement officer take evidence or property that should be turned in to the police department for future use for court or trial, it clearly betrays the badge. There’s no doubt about it,” Scott said.
When the deputy was first asked about the drugs, the report shows he said he did not have them and did not know where they were. When he was later brought in by the sheriff, that’s when the former deputy claimed he found the drugs in his car.
“Oh I forgot to turn it in and by the way, I just happen to find it in my car? That doesn’t smell right to me,” Scott added.
Zeringue was punished for the evidence mix-up at the West Feliciana Sheriff’s Office. According to disciplinary paperwork, he got hit with a three-day pay cut instead of a suspension. He was also drug tested. While he did pass that test, Scott tells WAFB that regardless of the outcome, the punishment should have been more severe.
WAFB’s Scottie Hunter asked the law enforcement expert if he thought the pay cut was a slap on the wrist.
“Yes,” Scott answered. “A three-day pay cut which would mean they took some time from his vacation bank or comp leave or personal leave. I would think that he would need a much more significant disciplinary action,” Scott added.
Scott says it is hard to prove whether the former officer took the drugs on purpose or if he simply forgot but given his past problems with evidence at BRPD, Scott believes the former officer should have been fired on the spot. Instead, he was able to resign months later and then move on to work for the Livingston Parish Sheriff’s Office. Scott says that highlights a glaring problem with officers jumping from agency to agency while doing questionable things behind the badge.
“It’s clearly a pattern of behavior by the officer but more importantly, where was the break down in the hiring process that did not discover this when he moved from the first agency where he was having problems with evidence to the second agency and then the third agency,” said Scott. “Clearly there’s a breakdown in the background process.”
Zeringue faces a number of felony charges for allegedly stealing the guns from BRPD. He has already bonded out of prison on those charges.
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