A lawsuit has claimed that Louisiana police chief
violated the religious freedoms of his officers.
Port Allen, LA – A former Port Allen
police officer has accused the department’s chief of police of violating his
religious freedom by reprimanding him for missing religious counseling
In a federal lawsuit filed on Friday,
Former Port Allen Police Officer Patrick Marshall accused Chief Esdron Brown,
who is an elected official, of threatening to suspend or fire him if he didn’t
attend monthly counseling appointments with the department’s chaplain, The
"He's just bitter because he got
written up for something, that's why he started all of this," Chief Brown
told The Advocate on Monday. "Before that he didn't have a problem. But he
got disciplined more than once. That's when they try to find something to get
Officer Marshall, who served the
department for 11 years prior to leaving Port Allen to go to another agency in
November of 2017, said that Chief Brown told him and other officers that he
wanted to have a “saved” department, according to the lawsuit.
The chief posted notices about
required monthly meetings with the department’s chaplain and threatened
reprimand for noncompliance, the lawsuit alleged.
Officer Marshall voiced his concern
regarding the mandatory religious meetings with Chief Brown and was told that
he would either be suspended for three months or face termination from the
force if he did not attend, according to the lawsuit.
On Oct. 24, 2017, Officer Marshall
stayed home with his sick son and failed to attend a scheduled religious session
with the chaplain, The Advocate reported.
Chief Brown called the officer into
his office the following day and advised him he was being “written up” for the
missed session, suspended his “vehicle take-home privileges” for a month, and
mandated that he attend an additional four counseling sessions with the
chaplain within a 30-day period, the Associated
According to the lawsuit, the officer
subsequently went to Port Allen Mayor Richard Lee and told him that Chief Brown
had created a hostile working environment for those who did not share his
personal religious beliefs, The Advocate reported.
Officer Marshall further alleged that
the chief would only offer specialized training and promotions to officers who
were aligned with his religious views.
After the meeting with Mayor Lee,
Officer Marshall’s pre-approved Thanksgiving vacation was canceled by Chief
Brown, who also ordered the officer to attend anger management classes, the
On Monday, Chief Brown said he had
not seen the lawsuit but that all of Officer Marshall’s allegations were false,
The Advocate reported.
The chief would not comment on why
the officer had faced disciplinary action but maintained that it was not
related to the allegations raised in the lawsuit.
Chief Brown agreed that he did
mandate monthly meetings with the department’s chaplain but said the sessions
were not religious.
“These were sessions related to
character development, given the scrutiny police officers are under
today," Chief Brown told The Advocate. "And if I canceled his
vacation, it's based on my need for people at the time."
The chief said he also promoted
Officer Marshall at one point since he took office.
“Our promotions are merit-based,”
Chief Brown said. “He got everything he deserved.”
However, the rate of turnover in the
police department has been high enough that’s come to the attention of some
Port Allen City Council members.
Councilman Gary Hubble first raised
concerns about Chief Brown’s inability to keep reliable officers on the force
in February of 2015, according to The
At that point, the chief had hired 16
officers since he took office in January of 2013, but 11 had already quit.
The most recent hiring data showed
that Chief Brown has gone back to the city council for approval to hire 28
officers since he took the helm of the department, but at least 14 of those
officers are no longer with the department for a variety of reasons, The