An elected police chief in Louisiana imposed his religious beliefs on officers and reprimanded them for missing mandatory religious counseling sessions, a federal lawsuit claims.
A former officer sued Port Allen Police Chief Esdron Brown on Friday, accusing the chief of violating his constitutional right to religious freedom. The former officer, Patrick Marshall, claims the chief threatened to fire or suspend him if he didn’t attend monthly counseling sessions with the department’s chaplain.
Marshall also claims he was passed over for promotions by less experienced officers because they attended the same church as the chief. The suit doesn’t specify the chief’s religious affiliation.
“Chief Brown openly voiced to (Marshall) and to officers throughout the Department that he wanted a ‘saved’ Department,” the suit says.
Brown didn’t immediately respond Monday to a telephone call or request for comment sent through the city’s website.
Marshall resigned from the department last November, about a month after he missed a counseling session with the chaplain to take care of a sick child, the suit says.
Brown called Marshall into his office the following day and told him he would be “written up” for missing the meeting, the suit says. The chief suspended Marshall’s “vehicle take-home privileges” for 30 days and required him to attend four additional sessions with the chaplain within a month, it adds.
Marshall says he told Port Allen Mayor Richard Lee III about his discipline by the chief. Brown subsequently told Marshall that he didn’t have to speak with the chaplain, but instead required him to attend anger-management classes and canceled his Thanksgiving vacation, the suit says.
The mayor said Monday that he hadn’t seen the suit and couldn’t comment on its claims.
Marshall’s suit names Brown, the police department and the city as defendants in the suit, which seeks unspecified monetary damages. Marshall, who had been a Port Allen police officer since 2006, currently works for another police department that isn’t named in his suit.
Port Allen is across the Mississippi River from Baton Rouge.
Brown, a Democrat, has served as Port Allen’s police chief since 2013 and was re-elected to a second four-year term in November 2016.
A Port Allen city councilman recently expressed concern about the police department’s high turnover rate, The Advocate reported. Brown has asked the council to approve the hiring of 28 officers since January 2013, and 14 of them have quit, been fired or retired, according to the newspaper.