No Discipline for New Orleans Cop in 15 Shooting Incidents, 50 Complaints
This story was co-published with the New Orleans Times-Picayune. For a broader look at the New Orleans Police Department’s early warning system – a program designed to identify possible problem cops -- see this Times-Picayune story.
The disciplinary file on the New Orleans Police Department's Lt. Dwayne Scheuermann is inches thick -- as thick as any on the police force.
The lieutenant has weathered more than 50 separate complaints, ranging from accusations of brutality and rape to improper searches and seizures. But none of the allegations ever stuck, although two complaints are still pending. Every time, Scheuermann was cleared and sent back onto the streets.
He has also fired his gun in at least 15 different incidents, wounding at least four people. Experts on police practices say the number is unusual -- most officers never fire their weapons.
Scheuermann's history of complaints would seem to make him an obvious candidate for the NOPD's early warning system, which aims to highlight and rehabilitate possible problem police officers.
Yet according to the city attorney's office, Scheuermann was never flagged for entrance into the monitoring program. The NOPD, meanwhile, said all its early warning system files were lost in Katrina and that it does not know whether Scheuermann was involved in the program.
Amid the complaints, Scheuermann has received plenty of commendations. The awards depict Scheuermann as a top cop, a relentless workhorse whose arrest numbers are unparalleled and a leader who has patrolled the most dangerous corridors of the city over a 23-year career. He has been a hero in the eyes of many of his peers.
In an NOPD yearbook is a photo of a smiling Scheuermann shaking the hand of former President Bill Clinton, who bestowed a national award on him for "outstanding productivity throughout his career."
Today, Scheuermann, 49, is preparing to stand trial on some of the most disturbing charges ever filed against a New Orleans police officer. Federal prosecutors accuse Scheuermann and a colleague of setting fire to a car containing the body of Henry Glover, who had been shot by a different police officer in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
Scheuermann declined to be interviewed for this story because of the pending charges against him.
Paradox of modern policing
A review of his file shows a pattern of complaints and red flags that should have jumped out at NOPD officials.
Top-ranking police commanders long knew Scheuermann was a controversial cop. In a letter written in July 2004, Deputy Chief Daniel Lawless expressed concern about how frequently Scheuermann was using his firearm, noting that Scheuermann had fired his gun in three separate incidents over a three-month period.
Lawless didn't want the lieutenant kicking down any more doors or chasing crime suspets.
"You are not to lead operations," the deputy chief wrote.
Since 2001, Scheuermann has held the rank of lieutenant, making him a sort of midlevel manager.
Scheuermann represents a paradox in modern policing, experts and cops say.
Agencies encourage officers to be proactive and make arrests, viewing big numbers as a sign of productivity. But when an officer who puts up big arrest numbers is accused of cutting corners or violating civil rights, supervisors often brush it off and declare the complaints unsustained, said Anthony Radosti of the watchdog Metropolitan Crime Commission.
"Where there is smoke, there is fire," Radosti said. "The more productive you are, the less you are scrutinized. Production means arrests, it's quantity versus quality. These arrest numbers became more important to the command structure in their efforts to regain control of the crime situation."
Volunteers for tough jobs
Radosti said the NOPD's breakdown in discipline, which he said dates back a decade, came home to roost in recent years, especially in the wake of Katrina.
From a police perspective, Scheuermann does the jobs others don't want to do. Capt. Michael Glasser, president of the Police Association of New Orleans, called Scheuermann an industrious officer who works constantly to better the city.
"From time to time, he has ruffled feathers because he puts people in jail," Glasser said. "He is an aggressive officer who handles a lot of people. You have to keep that in perspective."
Scheuermann was always a front-line officer willing to be the first to barge into a home while serving a warrant, Glasser said, adding, "No matter how dirty or unattractive the job is, Dwayne is the first to volunteer."
Because he is proactive, Scheuermann has significantly more interaction with citizens, so his high number of complaints should be taken in context, Glasser added.
"We put policemen in those positions to do that kind of difficult work," Glasser said. "In every instance, he has been found not to be at fault. We can't condemn a man for complaints, especially when we find they don't have merit. ... To his credit, the complaints have not stopped him from doing his job."
'Deadly force is pretty rare'
Former police officer David Klinger, a criminal justice professor in St. Louis and author of "Into the Kill Zone: A Cop's Eye View of Deadly Force," reviewed Scheuermann's files and said it's "highly unusual" for an officer to be involved in so many shootings.
"The use of deadly force is pretty rare," Klinger said. "Most cops go through their careers and never shoot even a single person."
However, Klinger also said it was impossible to judge Scheuermann's record fully without obtaining more information about each shooting.
Sam Walker, professor emeritus in the criminal justice department at the University of Nebraska at Omaha and author of numerous books on policing, was one of three researchers to analyze the NOPD's early warning system in the late 1990s. A review of Scheuermann's work history gave him pause.
"I think the real question is: With all of these shootings, was there ever any discipline? Not just a reprimand or suspension or something -- was any corrective action taken?" Walker said. "I mean, this is precisely what an early intervention system would pick up. You've got like three (shootings) within one brief period. Something's going on."
It's difficult to know exactly how many accusations have been filed against Scheuermann. At least seven brutality complaints against him were filed with the Office of Municipal Investigation, the city's own watchdog office that later dissolved. That file, obtained through a public records request, is incomplete. Other case files, for allegations investigated by the NOPD in the 1990s, were damaged or lost in Katrina, according to the city.
In 2002, a 24-year-old suspected drug dealer complained that Scheuermann used excessive force and conducted an improper body cavity search in an arrest outside an eastern New Orleans gas station. Scheuermann retrieved cocaine from the ground near the suspect and the complainant later pleaded guilty.
NOPD investigators determined that Scheuermann did not have the authority to carry a shotgun he pointed at people near the arrest scene. The NOPD ruled that Scheuermann used unnecessary force in straddling, punching and pepper-spraying the handcuffed suspect. He also conducted an improper strip search. Furthermore, Scheuermann failed to mention the shotgun or the search of the suspect's buttocks in a police report. The NOPD suspended Scheuermann for four days and he appealed the decision to the city's Civil Service Commission.
Following a lengthy civil service hearing, the hearing examiner, a former NOPD cop, called the case was "a great waste of time" and wrote that the NOPD should be embarrassed for having pursued it. The examiner, Harry Tervalon, wrote that Scheuermann is an "aggressive officer and probably testified in court more than any other officer" involved in drug investigations. Scheuermann's appeal was granted.
- In 2000, a 20-year-old son of an NOPD officer complained that Scheuermann berated him and struck him with a baton during a traffic stop. Scheuermann booked the man with public intoxication, disturbing the peace, underage drinking, resisting arrest and tampering with evidence. After learning the complainant was the son of an officer, Scheuermann allegedly drove the him home and told his father he would drop the incident if they agreed not to file a complaint against him. When the case came up in Municipal Court, the police dropped all the charges against the young man, who in turn dropped his complaint against Scheuermann, according to court records.
- In 2003, Scheuermann supervised a group of more than a dozen officers who conducted a questionable search-and-seizure. Scheuermann ordered two female officers to search the buttocks and vaginas of three females -- a 51-year-old, a 23-year-old and a 1-year-old. The police said they were looking for a shotgun, a rifle, two body armor vests, two license plates, a flashlight and a holster. None of those items were located, according to police records. The city later paid out $45,000 to settle a lawsuit alleging Scheuermann and the other officers violated the family's civil rights.
- In 2004, another police lieutenant alleged Scheuermann interfered with investigations, neglected duty, lied, and filed false and inaccurate reports. The investigation was later canceled, according to a notation in Scheuermann's file. The basis for the accusations and the reason for the cancellation is unknown. The NOPD says the file was lost.
- On Sept. 1, 2005, days after Katrina, Scheuermann and a colleague shot a 28-year-old man on a downtown overpass while responding to a report of rapes and mayhem. Scheuermann and Capt. Jeff Winn said they saw a man with a handgun lying in wait and they shot him. The NOPD conducted a cursory investigation and justified the officers' actions. The FBI opened a probe into the matter after media reports noted discrepancies in the case. The federal investigation is pending. The incident is not noted in Scheuermann's personnel file. In addition, the gunfire is not mentioned on an internal list of Scheuermann's weapons discharges.
- On Sept. 2, 2005, Scheuermann and a colleague allegedly beat two men at a makeshift police compound and commandeered a vehicle with another man's body inside it. The pair allegedly parked the car near a levee in Algiers and lit it on fire. Scheuermann and officer Greg McRae were each indicted on five federal counts in June of this year. The trial is scheduled for Nov. 8. If convicted, they each face up to 60 years in prison.
- In January 2009, Scheuermann was accused of false imprisonment and neglect of duty. For the past 18 months, the NOPD declined to release details and records on the matter, calling it a pending investigation. Last week, an NOPD spokesman said the "administration elected to postpone" the investigation until Scheuermann returned from a lengthy sick leave. The complaints were sustained by the Public Integrity Bureau, but the matter remains open until a disciplinary hearing with NOPD higher-ups is held. That hearing is scheduled for later this week.