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Resources, reassignment challenges in search for Terrilynn Monette

10th June 2013   ·   0 Comments

By Nayita Wilson
Contributing Writer

Editor’s Note: Since the publication of this article, the New Orleans Police Department with the assistance of other area law enforcement agents and search crews have located and recovered the vehicle belonging to 26-year-old Jefferson Parish schoolteacher Terrilynn Monette. Monette’s car was pulled from Bayou St. John around 3:25 p.m. June 08.

Through dental records, investigators were able to confirm that the body found inside the car was indeed Terrilynn Monette. According to the Orleans Parish Coroner’s Office, drowning was the cause of death. The investigation into the circumstances that caused Monette to end up in the bayou is ongoing; the results of a toxicology examination are pending and should be ready within two weeks. An updated story with the details of this tragic tale will appear in the upcoming edition of The Louisiana Weekly.

Three months into the search for Louisiana educator Terrilynn Monette, 26, the circumstances surrounding her disappearance and lack of breakthrough evidence in the Greater New Orleans area has Monette’s family pleading for federal authorities to intervene and conduct a national missing person’s search.

Monette’s mother, Toni Encalade, communicates with the New Orleans Police Department (NOPD) often regarding the case and appreciates the outpouring of kindness she receives from supporters. But the passing of time and Monette’s prevailing absence lead her to believe that more resources need to be allocated elsewhere.

“I have requested and insisted on the FBI taking on the investigation,” Encalade said. “I feel that they have more resources than the NOPD. I’m still not sure if her car has been taken over state lines . . . too much time has been prolonged in Louisiana. It’s been three months and still nothing has turned up yet—her car or her.”

Representatives from the NOPD and FBI say they are working together on the case. The NOPD has primary jurisdiction.

An FBI agent has worked alongside NOPD since the case opened, and the matter is “open” within the bureau. However, the FBI is prohibited by law from having primary jurisdiction in adult missing persons cases, said Mary Beth Romig, public affairs specialist within the FBI’s New Orleans Division.

In general, “If there is an indication that perhaps an adult was kidnapped and taken across state lines, then, yes, it becomes a federal matter,” Romig said.

While the NOPD and the FBI affirm their collaborative efforts, an internal divide in NOPD brews over the case and has resulted in requests for intervention from external law enforcement agencies.

Forensic Detective Reassigned

Fourteen-year NOPD veteran, Det. Dan Plustache worked Mon?ette’s case under NOPD’s Digital Forensic Unit until he was reassigned to a night watch assignment last week. Speaking on Plustache’s behalf, Michael Glasser, president of the Police Association of New Orleans (PANO), said he believes Plustache was reassigned for complaining about work assignments that prevented him from completing his core responsibilities.

Glasser said Plustache began to experience push back from superiors after filing the complaint and began to receive write-ups for “trivial” matters such as not attending intelligence meetings because of other work-related responsibilities, not signing a payroll document and attending a training exercise.

NOPD Chief Ronal Serpas believes otherwise. He said multiple investigations and an inability to handle forensic matters were the cause of the reassignment.

Serpas said, “I am very disappointed and believe it’s grossly unfair that an officer who is under multiple disciplinary investigations for his apparent failure to perform his duties would suggest that this department has done an insufficient job in the Terrilynn Monette case. Our officers have easily dedicated hundreds of hours on this case, and Commander John Thomas is in constant contact with Ms. Monette’s family, updating them on the case.”

Still, multiple law enforcement agencies have been asked step in since Plustache’s reassignment. In addition to filing complaints with NOPD’s Superintendent and Public Integrity Bureau (PIB), PANO filed a request with the office of New Orleans Independent Police Monitor (NOIPM) Susan Hutson, which is concerned with the retaliatory allegations spelled out in Plustache’s complaints.

“Thorough investigation of these types of allegations is absolutely necessary because retaliation is the enemy of good organizations,” said Ursula Price, Director of Community Relations at NOIPM. Price said, ultimately, addressing claims of this nature remain a challenge in NOPD because the PIB is typically tasked with investigating its superiors.

Similarly, the forensic testing of Monette’s computer now hangs in the balance. NOPD asserts that others within the department are trained to fulfill this responsibility; however, it remains unclear as to whether such testing will take place and by whom. An NOPD spokesperson said the department cannot release “every detail” to the public on the open investigation.

Louisiana Rep. Austin Badon acknowledges this is an area of concern and has asked the Louisiana State Police to perform the forensics testing on Monette’s computer and any electronic device that might provide answers to her disappearance.

“We want that computer analyzed,” Badon said. “That’s not for us to decide whether or not he (Plustache) was doing the job. We are concerned that this guy has been taken off the case. The clues that we need might be in that computer.”

NOPD Case Updates

Since taking on the case, NOPD has enlisted the help of various enforcement agencies. At different points of the investigation, the Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Office, FBI, Dive Recoveries, EquuSearch, Louisiana State Police, St. Charles Parish Sheriff’s Office and Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries have contributed in some capacity to on-the-ground searches, flyovers, water searches or general manpower.

“In my 22 years (with NOPD), we’ve probably done more in this case than we’ve ever done in any missing person case to date as far as the manpower and resources we’ve put into this case,” said Comm. John Thomas, NOPD 3rd District.

Thomas is leading the investigation and says his team has received more than 200 hotline tips since the case opened.

“We’ve been working tirelessly dealing with this,” he said.

This article originally published in the June 10, 2013 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.

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