I-Team: Deputy who shot and killed teen has lengthy past
BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - An 18-year-old was shot and killed by a deputy. That teen's family has now filed a federal suit claiming it was a wrongful death. Could the deputy's past have foretold the future?
"I can only tell you that without a doubt, my deputy says he did not intend to pull the trigger," said Tangipahoa Parish Sheriff Daniel Edwards.
Deputy William Phebus, a three-year veteran of the Tangipahoa Parish Sheriff's Department is on paid leave as State Police investigate the recent shooting death of Dee-Jay Galmon, 18.
August 11, 2012, Galmon reluctantly accompanied two of his friends to Club 81 in Tangipahoa Parish. Well into the night, the club's security called Tangipahoa deputies for help following a large disturbance. Two of the deputies who arrived on the scene were in the process of handcuffing an allegedly armed man on the ground when Galmon came into the picture.
"He was approaching the police to help them. He was telling them you've got the wrong person. You've got the wrong person. He had his hands in the air when the officer turned and shot him point blank, and he fell. When he hit the ground, he still had his hands above his head," said attorney Donna Grodner.
Grodner filed a federal lawsuit on behalf of Galmon's family claiming wrongful death. The main reason for that?
"Dee-Jay was not armed," said Grodner.
Sheriff Edwards supports that statement and goes even further.
"We have no reason at this time to believe that this 18-year-old did anything wrong and certainly, I want to make that clear. He was unarmed. I'm not saying he violated any laws what so ever," said Sheriff Edwards.
The lawsuit also said the Tangipahoa Sheriff's Office was negligent when it did not properly investigate Phebus' past jobs before hiring him. The suit goes on to say Phebus' history should have been an area of concern.
That's when the I-Team started looking into Deputy Phebus' past. The earliest mention we found for his law enforcement career was January 1998 at the Plaquemines Parish Sheriff's Office.
During his time there, two separate lawsuits were filed against Phebus and others for excessive force. Among the complaints was physical assault to inmates. In one incident, a suit reads, "Everyone was ordered to strip naked and stand. inmates were lined up and told that whichever of them moved would be beaten and then individuals were sprayed in the face with mace and tear gas."
In the second suit, Phebus is accused of hitting an inmate. Both suits were settled in 2000.
Phebus resigned from the Plaquemines Parish Sheriff's Office right around that time and joined the Elaine Hunt Correctional Facility, just outside of St. Gabriel, he was there less than six months.
February 2001, Phebus joined the St. Gabriel Police Department where he was put through a police academy. Again, he only lasted six months. Kevin Ambeau is now the police chief in St. Gabriel and said he remembers Phebus.
"Chief Nelson was the police chief at that time, and he recommended the city council terminate his employment because of numerous complaints against him," said Chief Ambeau.
Complaints like verbal and written warning notices regarding his unauthorized absence, failure to follow the law and leaving well before his shift was over.
The minutes from that August 2001 council meeting showed the chief and council members frustrated with all the complaints against the officer. It only got worse when it came to then-St. Gabriel Mayor George Grace.
"Mayor Grace stated in the minutes that Officer Phebus had more complaints on him than the entire department put together," said Chief Ambeau.
It's why the council voted to terminate Phebus. He then went to Sorrento Police in 2002 as a part-time officer and became full-time just five months later. When his 90-day probationary period was over, the mayor and council there voted not to hire him. So he went back to Elaine Hunt Correctional Facility in 2004, this time for about 15 months.
In 2009, he joined the Tangipahoa Parish Sheriff's Office where he is now on paid leave for shooting and killing an unarmed teen.
"When I found out it was Officer Phebus, it didn't surprise me," said Chief Ambeau. "It didn't surprise because of his past history."
The I-Team put in a call to Tangipahoa Parish Sheriff Daniel Edwards. His spokesperson told 9 News he could not comment because this is an ongoing case.
Meanwhile, State Police is finalizing their investigation and is expected to release its results to the district attorney next week.
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