The New Orleans Police Department has put out an arrest warrant for one of its own in a case with an unusual criminal charge. Precious Stephens, 25, is a police dispatcher who is accused of not recording information or simply hanging up on emergency 911 calls. After the pattern was discovered, she fled. She is now accused of criminal malfeasance in office and interfering with an emergency communication.
According to the New Orleans Police Department, Stephens deliberately brushed aside or ignored the emergency calls of citizens:
“Working as a 911 operator with the Orleans Parish Communications District at the time, she is wanted for allegedly disconnecting 911 calls deliberately without obtaining necessary emergency information or relaying such emergencies to the other dispatchers for aid,” the NOPD noted in a press release. “The report was taken on August 23, 2021.”
She was ultimately dismissed after an investigation. What followed was relatively rare. She was charged under Louisiana law with malfeasance in office.
What is interesting about the law is how broad the language is. It not only allows a criminal charge for anyone who intentionally refuses or fails to perform any lawfully required duty, but also allows a charge for permitting any other public employee to fail to do so.
Obviously, this is one of the most serious forms of malfeasance since people could die or be injured as a result. The statute itself reads like criminalized negligence. It uses the language of criminal scienter in requiring an intentional act. However, it is intent to “refuse or fail to perform” a duty. The mens rea element is merely eliminating involuntary failures like illness or force in the failure to perform. Otherwise, it is simply the intent not to do you job.
Since I have not seen many of these cases, I wanted to share the underlying law.
Here is the provision at LA Rev Stat § 14:134
SUBPART F. OFFICIAL MISCONDUCT AND
§134. Malfeasance in office
A. Malfeasance in office is committed when any public officer or public employee shall:
(1) Intentionally refuse or fail to perform any duty lawfully required of him, as such officer or employee; or
(2) Intentionally perform any such duty in an unlawful manner; or
(3) Knowingly permit any other public officer or public employee, under his authority, to intentionally refuse or fail to perform any duty lawfully required of him, or to perform any such duty in an unlawful manner.
B. Any duty lawfully required of a public officer or public employee when delegated by him to a public officer or public employee shall be deemed to be a lawful duty of such public officer or employee. The delegation of such lawful duty shall not relieve the public officer or employee of his lawful duty.
C.(1) Whoever commits the crime of malfeasance in office shall be imprisoned for not more than five years with or without hard labor or shall be fined not more than five thousand dollars, or both.
(2) In addition to the penalty provided for in Paragraph (1) of this Subsection, a person convicted of the provisions of this Section may be ordered to pay restitution to the state if the state suffered a loss as a result of the offense. Restitution shall include the payment of legal interest at the rate provided in R.S. 13:4202.
Amended by Acts 1980, No. 454, §1; Acts 2002, 1st Ex. Sess., No. 128, §6; Acts 2010, No. 811, §1, eff. Aug. 15, 2011.