A New Orleans Police Department sergeant who was fired over incendiary and “racially insensitive” social media posts during the George Floyd demonstrations in 2020 will keep his job after the Louisiana Supreme Court on Tuesday (Feb. 7) reversed a lower court’s ruling that found he should be terminated.
Sgt. Anthony Edenfield, who has continued to work for the department as his case made its way through the court, was assigned to the department’s homicide division at the time he made the comments.
The NOPD initially decided to fire him in late 2020 after a Public Integrity Bureau investigation found that he had made “racially insensitive” social media posts in which he called demonstrators “animals” and “savages” and said that if he encountered a demonstration that blocked the road, “I am running them over, and shooting if lethal force were my only way out.”
Edenfield appealed his termination at the Civil Service Commission, an independent board that acts as a human resources department for most city workers. In January 2022, the commission downgraded his punishment from termination to a suspension.
Civil Service commissioners found that the NOPD erred in elevating the punishment, in part because then-NOPD Superintendent Shaun Ferguson “did not consider mitigating factors, including the officer’s 20-year work history with no disciplinary actions, his emotional state at the time, and the earlier posts supportive of racial harmony.”
Edenfield had testified his emotional state was impacted at the time — late May and early June 2020, days after Floyd was murdered by Minneapolis police officers and as protests against police brutality were heating up across the country — “by his frustration with the effect of the protests on his daughter.” He testified that the protests were making his daughter nervous that something would happen to him on the job.
Ferguson was openly disappointed in the commission’s decision. Ferguson thought termination was the right decision because Edenfield’s actions prevented him from being an effective officer, according to the Civil Service ruling.
“Superintendent Ferguson testified Edenfield’s ability to lead other officers and his ability to testify in court were compromised because of his comments,” the Civil Service ruling said.
The NOPD appealed the decision to the state Fourth Circuit Court of Appeal. In October, the court reversed the Civil Service Commission’s decision and upheld the NOPD’s original decision to fire Edenfield.
“Sgt. Edenfield made numerous offensive comments on social media, and such action compromised the officer’s ability to testify in court or lead other officers,” the Fourth Circuit ruling said. “Certain reprehensible acts of a police officer, under any circumstance, are prejudicial to the efficient operation of the police department.”
But it appears that Edenfield continued to work for NOPD even after the Fourth Circuit decision.
“Actually he was never terminated,” Edenfield’s attorney, Eric Hessler, told Verite. “He’s still working today. I called him and told him the decision and he’s at work today.”
When Edenfield asked for a Supreme Court review, action on the matter was delayed pending a final ruling. That ruling came on Tuesday, when the court decided to reverse the Fourth Circuit ruling and reinstate the Civil Service decision to downgrade the discipline from termination to an 80-day suspension.
In the decision, five of the seven justices voted to simply reverse the Fourth Circuit decision. The others — Justices John Weimer and Piper Griffin — wanted the two sides to present full arguments in briefs and in person before the court.. (Griffin, of New Orleans, is the court’s sole Black justice.)
Hessler said that Edenfield served out the 80-day suspension and has been working ever since. Verite asked whether Edenfield’s role had changed at all following the suspension.
“He didn’t get demoted,” Hessler said. “He’s still a sergeant, still working, going wherever the department says he’s needed.”
Edenfield has also filed a federal civil rights suit against the city claiming that the disciplinary actions taken against him for his online comments violated his First Amendment rights. The city has moved for the December 2022 suit to be dismissed, but the judge presiding over the case has yet to rule on the motion.
Neither the NOPD nor Mayor LaToya Cantrell’s office responded to requests for comment on Tuesday’s state Supreme Court ruling.
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