No discipline for New Orleans cop despite complaints
The disciplinary file on the New Orleans Police Department's 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, to rape, to improper searches and
seizures. But none of the allegations has 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 of its early-warning system files were lost in Katrina and
that it does not know if Scheuermann was involved in the program.
Amid the complaints, Scheuermann received plenty of commendations.
The awards depict Scheuermann as a top cop, a relentless workhorse whose
arrest numbers are unparalleled and leader who has patrolled the most
dangerous corridors of the city over a 23-year career. He was a hero in
the eyes of many of his peers.
In the 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 by shot by a different police officer during
the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Scheuermann declined to be
interviewed for this story because of the pending charges against him.
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 suspects.
"You are not to lead operations," the deputy chief wrote. Since 2001,
Scheuermann has held the rank of lieutenant, making him a sort of
Scheuermann represents a paradox in modern policing, experts and cops say.
Agencies encourage officers to be "pro-active" 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
"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."
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."
He was always a frontline officer willing to be the first to barge
into a home while serving a warrant, Glasser said: "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."
David Klinger, a former cop who now teaches in St. Louis and is
considered an expert on use-of-force issues, reviewed Scheuermann's
files and said it's "highly unusual" for an officer to be involved in so
"The use of deadly force is pretty rare," said Klinger, author of "Into the Kill Zone: A Cop's Eye View of Deadly Force." "Most cops go
through their careers and never shoot even a single person."
However, Klinger also said it was impossible to fully judge
Scheuermann's record without obtaining more information about each
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.