S'port officer in Garbarino case reinstated

SHREVEPORT, LA (KSLA)- A Shreveport Police Officer fired after a bloody November 2007 incident involving DWI suspect Angie Garbarino has been reinstated by the Civil Service Board.

Garbarino was injured in the course of a confrontation with Officer Wiley Willis at the Police Department's DWI Unit.

A camera that recorded the incident between an argumentative Garbarino and Officer Willis as he attempted to adminIster a breathalyzer test was turned off at one point. When it was turned back on, Garbarino was lying on the floor in a pool of blood.

Today's hearing included testimony from Police Chief Henry Whitehorn and the man hired by the Shreveport Police Department to conduct the interrogation and polygraph on Officer Wiley Willis.

But the attorney representing Willis was not appealing the firing based on whether he violated the terms of departmental policy. Instead attorney Eron Brainard argued that Willis' rights as a police officer under investigation were violated.

The board had to decide whether the police department did wrong in the way they conducted their internal investigation, based on the Law Enforcement Officers' Bill of Rights.

Police Union-retained attorney Eron Brainard made the argument on three fronts:

1). that the City and SPD denied requests for witnesses on WilIis' behalf

2). that the Police Department's investigation actually began on the night of the incident and was not completed within the required 60 days.

3). That the polygraph conducted on Willis was not recorded, and a copy of that recording, as a result, could not be provided to him.

The first two arguments were rejected by the board. The third, however, won them over. Specifically, that according to the Law Officers' Bill of Rights, "All interrogations of any police employee or law enforcement officer in connection with an investigation shall be recorded in full."

Testimony revealed that Willis' polygraph interview was not recorded on video or audio, and that the man hired to administer the test was not aware the Officer's Bill of Rights required him to do so.

Based on that testimony, the Civil Service Board voted unanimously that Wiilis' rights as a law enforcement officer were violated, instantly nullifying his February 2008 termination by Chief Whitehorn.

"It's an unfortunate affair," said Brainard after the Board's unanimous vote, "but he did do right in this matter, and so I'm very happy for him."

One person who is not happy is Chief Whitehorn, pointing out the recent reinstatement of two other officers he had fired.

"It appears that no matter what decisions are made, even when the board says the department acted with just cause, they still bring officers back to work," says Chief Whitehorn. "I don't know what it's gonna take."

Still, Chief Whitehorn says he stands by his actions and plans to appeal Willis' reinstatement. "It was strictly on a technicality, and I believe that's why the attorney representing Mr. Willis used the technicality, because I don't believe they could win it on the merits," says Chief Whitehorn.

Willis himself declined comment immediately after the ruling, but smiled slightly upon hearing the decision and accepted handshakes and a few congratulatory backslaps and hugs from family and supporters.

Willis is clear to return to return to work immediately as long as his service and firearm requirements are up to date.  Or, he could choose to take the year and a half's-worth of back-pay and move on.

He indicated through his attorney that he hasn't decided yet.

Garbarino was present at the hearing, but left without commenting on the ruling. Garbarino received $400,000 in compensation for her injuries in an out-of-court settlement reached with the city in November 2008.

The DWI charge filed the night she was injured was dismissed as part of that settlement.

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