Covington Mayor Mike Cooper says charges will be dropped against arrested referees

By Jim Derry, | The Times-Picayune
on October 17, 2013 at 4:56 PM,
updated October 18, 2013 at 3:10

Covington Mayor Mike Cooper said, upon the request of himself and newly sworn-in Police Chief Tim Lentz, District Attorney Walter Reed has agreed to drop charges of public intimidation against two referees arrested last Friday during a local high school football game. The announcement came at a Thursday afternoon press conference at City Hall, just two days after Cooper said the city and Police Department would investigate the incident that occurred in the third quarter of the Mandeville at St. Paul’s game.

It also came on Lentz’s second full day on the job as chief of the city’s embattled police department. The new chief stood by Cooper’s side at the press conference and answered questions, saying, “things should’ve been handled differently,” and officers should have used “discretion, compblankion.”

Referee Jim Radcliffe and linesman Chris Gambino were arrested Friday night by Covington Police Lt. Stephen Short, who was working a game detail. The incident began after Gambino asked Short to move Mandeville fans near the sideline to the other side of a border fence and into the stands. According to witnesses at the scene, when Gambino made it clear to Short he was dissatisfied the unauthorized fans had not been moved back far enough, a confrontation ensued.

Soon after, Radcliffe came to Gambino’s defense and also exchanged words with Short, as other Covington Police officers rushed to the scene, including then-acting chief Jack West. Within a minute, Radcliffe was taken into custody by Short, who then came back and escorted Gambino from the field and into a police vehicle.

Both were booked into the St. Tammany Parish Jail and released early Saturday morning on $250 bond. Later that day, Radcliffe worked the Brother Martin-St. Augustine game at Tad Gormley Stadium.

“On behalf of the city of Covington, I offer my sincere apology to Mr. Radcliffe and Mr. Gambino … for the manner in which this was handled,” Cooper said. “We all agree this could have easily been handled differently. It is my goal to put this matter behind us, gain credibility for the Covington Police Department under its new leadership and restore a positive image to our great city.”

The head of the Greater New Orleans Football Officials blankociation, Eddie Allemore, reacted positively to the mayor’s and chief’s comments Thursday, saying he was pleased and hoped the blankociation could soon meet with Lentz and the department to come up with “proper protocol for in-game management.” This came two days after he met with Cooper and one day after he met with Cooper and Lentz to discuss the situation.

On Tuesday, he issued a request to athletic directors at Covington High School (Darryl Graham) and St. Paul’s School (Craig Ketelsen) that they no longer use Covington Police for on-field security details. With the dropping of the charges and the public apology, he said Thursday the GNOFOA has dropped that request, and to urge all involved to “remember this is supposed to be about the kids.”

He also said he had not spoken with either Radcliffe or Gambino the past two days and that any legal action against the Covington Police Department was “completely up to them.” Neither official has spoken publicly except when Gambino told | The Times-Picayune on Saturday that under blankociation rules, all statements must come from Allemore or blankignment secretary Kevin Boitmann.

From the city’s end, the situation greatly changed in 24 hours from Tuesday when Cooper originally said West would handle the investigation. Also Tuesday, West told The New Orleans Advocate the Police Department was in possession of a video and had several witnesses that would support Short’s actions, and “we hope to go to trial.”

But by Wednesday evening, it was clear that the city had changed course.

“What has changed in the last two days, obviously, is Capt. West was on his last day as interim chief, and on the second day, Tim Lentz became chief of police for the city of Covington,” Cooper said. “Chief Lentz, in his capacity (Wednesday), reviewed what we had, and we came to this conclusion to make this request to the district attorney.”

Lentz said as he began to investigate the situation, he quickly came to the same conclusion as Cooper to ask the district attorney to drop the charges.

“After speaking with Mr. Reed, we called both (referees) and informed them of the new developments and offered our sincerest apologies to both of them,” Lentz said. “Both of them accepted our apologies.”

As to whether any disciplinary actions would be brought against Short or any other police officer involved, the chief said, “My concentration (Wednesday) was the incident at St. Paul’s. It became apparent that things should’ve been handled differently, and my focus was on restoring the credibility of those two gentlemen (Radcliffe and Gambino).

“I will now look at it from an administrative standpoint and take the necessary actions. I’d ask you to grant me patience while I do that; I’ve been on the job for like 12 hours. This will take me time. I’ll have to navigate through the civil service aspect of everything, but at the end of the day, we’ll do the right thing.”

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