ZURIK: Several NOPD officers receive federal target letters

Attention to the Details followup
Attention to the Details followup
Published: Feb. 14, 2022 at 10:05 PM CST|Updated: Feb. 14, 2022 at 10:10 PM CST
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NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - Five New Orleans police officers have received target letters from the federal government regarding possible violations of criminal laws, sources tell FOX 8.

The letters come after FOX 8′s series of investigations looking into NOPD officers potentially double-dipping and one officer racing cars while on the clock. On 20 different days, FOX 8 found NOPD Sergeant Todd Morrell racing cars, while the police department paid him to be on the clock.

That included a day when video showed him at NOLA Motorsports on the West Bank, where he raced three times while also claiming he worked a 12-hour NOPD detail shift patrolling the fairgrounds neighborhood on the other side of the river.

Sources now confirm to FOX 8 that Morrell is one of at least five police officers who received a federal target letter last week.

ATTENTION TO DETAILS

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“This is the government tipping its hand to these people saying, ‘you’re a target of our investigation,’” said Tulane Law Professor Joel Friedman. “And a target means we think you’ve committed a crime.”

Target letters are usually brief, and state that the receiver is the target of an investigation into possible violations of criminal laws.

Sources tell FOX 8 other officers who received target letters are Todd Morrell’s brother, Nicholas, as well as officers Michael Stalbert, Rene Benjamin, and Brian Sullivan.

“Well, if I were one of those people, I’d be nervous because if you get a target letter from the federal government, that means they think you’ve committed a crime - you are a target. You are a potential defendant,” said Friedman.

FOX 8′s investigation looked into those officers and others who possibly double dipped, meaning they were paid for duty and detail work at the same time. FOX 8′s investigations also revealed many officers worked lengthy shifts against NOPD policy and raised more questions about whether they were actually physically working the details they were paid for.

Friedman says this is a sign the investigation is progressing, and indictments are likely to come this year.

“I mean, these are our police officers. These are the people we entrust with a gun who are here to protect us, and most of them do this and they deserve all of our admiration. But when these few people do this kind of thing, it tarnishes the whole police force. It destroys the moral, makes it hard to recruit, it’s tenfold in problems,” said Friedman.

The NOPD released the following statement to FOX 8 regarding the developments in the FBI’s investigation: “From the beginning, we have said this behavior won’t be tolerated. As with everything we face, it can be a learning experience. We have implemented measures that will significantly reduce the possibility that an NOPD shift will overlap with an OPSE detail. For instance, NOPD shift schedules are now fed into the OPSE system. If a requested detail shift overlaps with a scheduled NOPD shift, the system will reject it. NOPD has worked closely with the Office of the Independent Police Monitor and the federal consent decree monitors to design safeguards that will help the system operate more efficiently.”

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