Baton Rouge, LA – A Baton Rouge police officer was fired on Tuesday for an interview he gave in his capacity as a union representative about the controversial billboards warning motorists to enter the city “at your own risk.”
The billboards were posted by the Baton Rouge Union of Police in July and cited statistics that showed Baton Rouge is the fifth deadliest city in the United States, WAFB reported.
One of the billboards featured the city’s body count for the first six months of 2020 and quoted Baton Rouge Police Chief Murphy Paul saying “I’m worried.”
The Baton Rouge mayor went ballistic and demanded the police union immediately take down their billboards, WAFB reported.
“I am saddened for every police officer in Baton Rouge and every citizen,” Baton Rouge Union of Police President Sergeant Brandon Blust said. “Saddened by the Mayor’s response to public information billboards that were recently erected. Billboards that were put up to inform the citizens of this city of a very true and very serious situation. A growing situation that can only be slowed by working together with a well-informed city.”
Around the same time, Baton Rouge Police Officer Siya Creel gave an interview as vice president of the police union to investigative journalist Kiran Chawla for her YouTube channel, the reporter posted on her Facebook page.
Baton Rouge police opened an Internal Affairs investigation into Officer Creel, a five-year veteran of the department, shortly after the interview was posted online, WAFB reported.
Officer Creel filed a lawsuit against his police department in early December that accused the agency of violating his “clearly established rights of Free Speech.”
On Dec. 15, Chief Paul announced that Officer Creel had been terminated for failure to comply with department policy, WAFB reported.
The officer’s termination paperwork said he was fired because he failed to get “proper authorization from Chief (Murphy) Paul’s office or the BRPD Public Relations Division to participate in an interview that would lead the general public to believe that you were representing BRPD.”
The paperwork said Officer Creel stood accused of conduct unbecoming an officer, unauthorized public statements, and carrying out social orders (social media), WAFB reported.
Now-former Officer Creel, who is also battling cancer, has 15 days to appeal his termination.
The award-winning investigative journalist whose interview got the officer fired was outraged by what had happened and shared her fury on Facebook.
“WOW,” Chawla wrote. “I’ve kept my mouth shut for so very long but enough is enough. The officer who interviewed with me on the informational billboards in Baton Rouge was just fired today for that very interview.”
“You may remember the interview from my YouTube channel in July 2020 where Officer Siya Creel stepped up on behalf of the members of the police union to warn the public about the increase in violent crime in Baton Rouge,” the post continued.
“He was off-duty when he did that interview but within the city limits of Baton Rouge when he spoke in his capacity as the vice president of the union. BRPD’s own policy says if you’re off-duty but within city limits, you are to carry your gun on you. (They did investigate him for wearing his gun and badge during the interview),” she ranted.
“Since then, the department launched an internal affairs investigation into Officer Creel for that interview. Fast forward to today. The dept. fired him over it. His termination paperwork has our interview all over it,” the investigative reporter wrote. “In my career, I have interviewed God knows how many union leaders both on and off the clock, in uniform, in plain clothes, with guns on or without a gun. Not once in the history of the Baton Rouge Union of Police has an executive member been disciplined for speaking to the media on behalf of its membership or the public even if it was adversarial to the sitting police chief.”
She went on to give an example of a previous union representative who had done interviews in full uniform.
And then Chawla chastised the local media for letting the police department get away with such ridiculousness.
The reporter closed her post by saying former Officer Creel has been going through chemo in his battle against cancer and then the department fired him one week before Christmas.
She asked people to contribute to a GoFundMe that has been set up to help the now-former officer support his wife and children.