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Deputy NOPD Chief Marlon Defillo resigns

25th July 2011   ·   0 Comments

By Christopher Tidmore
Contributing Writer

Facing a disciplinary hearing that could have driven him off of the police force, Deputy Superintendent Marlin Defillo chose to resign on Thursday. The 32-year NOPD veteran was scheduled to attend a hearing on Friday, July 22, at which Chief Ronal Serpas was to meet out Defillo’s punishment over his failure to investigate allegations that NOPD officers killed a man and buried his body in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

Allegations that Marlin Defillo defended his fellow police officers to the point of refusing to investigate wrongdoing have plagued the veteran officers for over a decade—long before the recent Henry Glover case, where Defillo was accused of refusing to look into claims that the 31-year-old African American had been shot by officers.

Marlon Defillo

Just under 13 years ago, The Louisiana Weekly received allegations from two then-active duty NOPD sergeants that the much vaunted Comstat Crime Statistics were being fudged. As it was described to this newspaper at the time, pressure came from district captains to downgrade crimes by one degree. A gunshot in the street, which would normally be classified as second-degree murder, might find itself reported as manslaughter. A robbery would become a break in, and so on.
Those changes would seeming lower the overall crime rate, they explained.

Initially, when this newspaper sought comment from senior NOPD officials, none was forthcoming from Chief Pennington or then Deputy Superintendent Ronal Serpas.

We did receive confirmation from the New Orleans Coroner’s Office that crimes were only investigated forensically based on NOPD’s classification of that crime, so that the reporting of the officers at the scene was usually what ended up in the stats.

Shortly thereafter, The Louisiana Weekly published the Sergeants’ allegations. A letter came from then-Public Information Officer Marlin Defillo lambasting this newspaper for engaging in fiction and creating allegations. When the Weekly editorial staff asked Defillo if the NOPD Public Integrity Division would investigate the claims, we were dismissed.

Less than four years later, the fudging of crime statistics by district captains, due to pressure to show decreased crime rates, was confirmed, putting a shadow on the previously popular NOPD administration of Richard Pen­nington.

There was never any claim that Defillo or his superiors had anything to do with the manipulation of crime statistics, only that when problems arose, they were not eager to investigate their fellow officers. For the next decade, claims that Defillo shielded NOPD officers under investigation were repeated, though never proved.

The next few years would prove fruitful for Defillo receiving num­erous awards and honors, and even serving as acting police chief when Warren Riley resigned. His tenure was also financially remunerative. By 2002, Defillo was the architect of an informal policy where he maintained control of all off-duty paid details for movie and film productions had, earning him more than $107,000 in just one year—over and above his police salary. This lasted until Serpas last year banned his top deputies from working details.

Then, allegations surfaced that Defillo learned in 2008 of a possible NOPD role in the killing of 31-year-old Henry Glover in Algiers on Sept. 2, 2005, and a subsequent cover-up.

Half a year later, the liberal magazine the Nation questioned the circumstances of Glover’s death in an article. NOPD responded in a similar fashion to the letter the Weekly had received several years before, with a press release citing that there was no evidence that substantiated the allegations. In a similar fashion to the way that he had dealt with the cops that spoke to the Weekly under the veil of confidentiality, the news release demanded that any citizen with information telephone Defillo.

The U.S. Department of Justice was unsatisfied with the res­ponse. The FBI opened an investigation into Glover’s death, leading to indictments and one of the largest civil rights cases in recent history. Out of five indictments, two NOPD officers were convicted in December.

In the midst of the federal probe, Defillo appeared before the grand jury. His under oath testimony described a series of events that led many to question what role he played in the Glover case. And, whether he had revealed all.

Defillo admitted that as a deputy chief, he received a call in June 2008 alerting him that a journalist was working on a story about Glover—and the officers involved in his death. The Deputy Superintendent went on to testify that he contacted the coroner’s office and was told that Glover’s body had been found burned in a vehicle on the levee.

The matter was considered an “unclassified death,” and Defillo admitted that he dropped the matter. However, as the Weekly article from nearly a decade before had observed, the New Orleans Coroner’s Office listed the means and ways of death after being briefed by NOPD officers on the scene. As standard procedure, Defillo must have been aware.

In February 2009, William Tanner, the man who had attempted to assist Glover after he was wounded by police gunfire, asked Defillo to get the NOPD to pay for his vehicle, which he believed had been incinerated by police with Glover’s body inside. Despite conversations with superiors who questioned Defillo, wondering if there was more to the case than had been reported, Defillo took no action.

Eventually, he would assign the Glover investigation to NOPD Sgt. Gerard Dugue, despite the fact that the Sergeant was himself under investigation for his role in an alleged cover-up of the Danziger Bridge police shootings — events roughly concurrent with Glover’s death.

Defillo instructed Dugue to report directly to him, but upon Dugue’s indictment in the Danziger case, Defillo reportedly dropped the matter. When August 2009, FBI agents raided the NOPD’s Homicide Division offices and collected Dugue’s computer as part of their Danziger probe, no further action was taken in the Glover case.

Defillo testified in the federal trial of the officers charged in the Glover case in late 2010, but he did not come under NOPD scrutiny until earlier this year. The lawyer for NOPD Capt. Jeff Winn, Eric Hessler, filed an internal complaint with the NOPD claiming Defillo was also culpable in the case.

Due to Defillo’s Deputy Superintendency, the Louisiana State Police conducted the investigation. At its end, Marlin Defillo was found that he had neglected his duty by not investigating officers.

Longtime NOPD observer Brian Trascher defended Defillo in an interview with The Louisiana Weekly. “He was a good cop. He made a mistake trying to defend his guys. When you’re at that level, it’s like being a coach or a father. To extend the sports analogy further, you want to keep your team safe. You want to protect your players on the field. Sometimes you go too far.”

This article was originally published in the July 25, 2011 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper

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