GPS in police car shows officer speeding more than 700 times
SORRENTO, LA (WAFB) - Some people want a police officer to turn over his badge after a GPS in his police car registered the officer speeding more than 700 times, sometimes out of his jurisdiction. One woman is taking the town and the police chief to court because of it.
Officer James Bell joined the ranks of the Sorrento Police Department last December. On September 2, 2013 he was involved in a crash on Airline Highway. According to a report by Louisiana State Police, Officer Bell said he was "attempting to catch up to a vehicle that was allegedly going 80 miles per hour in a 55 mile per hour zone." The pursuit ended when the officer slammed on his brakes, lost control of his police cruiser and hit another car.
According to the GPS in his unit, Bell was going 100 miles per hour when the crash happened. The woman in the other car, who was injured, has hired attorney Andre Gauthier.
"The officer was just driving down the road at this crazy rate of speed," said Gauthier.
According to the telematics, or GPS records Gauthier requested for Bell's police car, the same afternoon the crash happened, Bell's cruiser reached speeds of 109 and 106 miles per hour, in separate instances.
The report also shows from July 1 to September 3 Bell's unit was clocked going more than 75 miles per hour 737 times, oftentimes outside of town limits.
"You're driving like that in areas outside of your jurisdiction, surely you're not chasing people outside of your jurisdiction," said Gauthier.
Bell's boss, Police Chief Earl Theroit says citizens' speeding is a big problem in Sorrento and his officers have cracked down hard.
The Chief says Officer Bell has written more than 300 citations for speeding in the last two months, but he says there is no excuse for Bell's speeding.
"Yes he was wrong and he was reprimanded for it," said Chief Theroit.
Bell's disciplinary record from the Sorrento Police Department states that in the nine months he has been on the force, he has been reprimanded twice; once only for speeding. That write up states "due to the fact you were in a car accident with your unit SP-5 on U.S. 61 by Dollar General on September 02, 2012," and another write up because he "broke the law and parked in a handicap parking spot in front of the Dollar General."
Residents are not happy, including Joshua Irvine, who says he recently got a speeding ticket from Officer Bell.
"Why isn't he issued a citation? How can he wrongfully issue civilians citations when he doesn't uphold the same law for himself?" said Irvine.
Chief Theroit says his hands are tied.
"So, why isn't he on paid administrative leave? That - well, we don't have the manpower," said Chief Theroit.
Bell is one of only five officers on the Sorrento force. Still, Gauthier says leaving Officer Bell on the road is putting the public in danger. He plans to sue the town and the chief.
"727 violations; I think they should take him off the road before someone gets killed," said Gauthier.
Chief Theroit says he is reviewing the crash report and will bring the issue before the town council to consider the proper disciplinary action.
Sorrento, LA is about 30 miles south of Baton Rouge, with a population of about 1,500.
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