Former Hessmer cop files suit for ‘wrongful termination’

Claims Village Council retaliated for malfeasance investigation

Jordon Santoyo, who was fired as a Hessmer police officer in July 2018 for attending a Cottonport Town Council meeting while on duty, has filed suit against the Village of Hessmer.

In a civil suit filed in 12th Judicial District Court on July 23, Santoyo claims he has “not been able to obtain an appointment to a police department in Avoyelles Parish or the surrounding parishes and has had to relocate.”

He seeks monetary damages for loss of income, loss of reputation, emotional distress, embarrassment and inconvenience, mental anguish, interest from the date of judicial demand until paid, and any attorney’s fees, expert witness fees and cost of court proceedings.

Santoyo is represented by Alexandria attorney Jeremy Cedars. Hessmer’s Town Attorney is Brandon Scott of Marksville.

BACKGROUND

Santoyo was the village’s only full-time patrolman when he left Hessmer for a short time during his shift on July 16, 2018 to attend the Cottonport Town Council meeting, where he anticipated his appointment as a part-time officer was to be heard. It was not considered due to some missing paperwork.

Santoyo came back to Hessmer and attended the Hessmer council meeting, also being held that night.

The council held a special meeting on July 26, 2018 to consider disciplinary action against Santoyo. Santoyo opted to have the meeting in public, rather than in a closed session.

The aldermen focused on the fact that Santoyo did not clock out before leaving to attend the Cottonport meeting.

Had he done so, and had permission from the police chief, there would have been no cause for discipline, the councilmen noted at the time.

However, they said he was paid for about 30-45 minutes of his shift when he was not actually on duty in Hessmer.

Santoyo claimed he was singled out for doing something other employees do -- handling personal errands during the work day -- out of retaliation for complaints he had filed about operations in other village departments.

Mayor Travis Franks and the three councilmen denied that allegation.

SUMMARY OF SUIT

In the suit, Santoyo claims that Police Chief Kenneth Smith was conducting an investigation into possible malfeasance by “certain employees.” Santoyo was also investigating “the public finances of the village, including whether public funds were being expended for private events.”

Santoyo notes that in July 2018 he was an officer for Hessmer and had applied to be a part-time officer in Cottonport. He said Smith was aware of that application. Santoyo said he had the “explicit permission of Chief Smith to go to the Village of Cottonport to handle the matter.”

The suit claims the council’s decision to fire him at the July 26 special meeting was a “wrongful termination.”

He contends the council and mayor “did not want an officer of the Village of Hessmer investigating potential abuses into the public finances.”

Santoyo states that Cottonport Police Chief Earnest Anderson wanted to hire Santoyo due to a shortage of POST-certified police officers to serve on the Cottonport police force.

He said the mayor, council members and town attorney contacted Cottonport officials “in an attempt to prevent petitioner’s (Santoyo’s) hiring.”

Due to the Hessmer officials’ involvement, the Cottonport Council hired Santoyo on Aug. 20 for only a one-month probationary period.

He said the Hessmer officials continued to lobby Cottonport officials not to retain Santoyo “due to petitioner’s actions of investigating the Village of Hessmer.”

JOB ENDS ON TIE VOTE

Cottonport decided not to extend Santoyo’s employment on a 2-2 tie-vote at the Sept. 17 meeting.

The suit alleges the Cottonport Council’s decision “had nothing to do with petitioner’s conduct as an officer of the Village of Cottonport’s police department and came against the recommendation of the chief of police for the Village of Cottonport.”

In a related matter, Santoyo is a declared candidate for alderman in the Fall 2020 municipal elections in which the three at-large council seats, mayor’s office and -- unless voters decide otherwise this November -- police chief position will be filled.

{Editor’s Note: This article reports on the filing of a lawsuit. A lawsuit includes only the allegations of one party against another. It does not give both sides of a case and is not proof that the allegations made are correct and true. The truth of the allegations will be determined by a judge and/or jury.}  

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