Cop Fired For Posting About Her "Jerry Springer-Style" Brawl On Facebook Files An Ethics Complaint Against DPD
"That's right," Cat Lafitte wrote in an email to the Observer about a month ago. "I'm the idiot Facebook cop."
If you don't remember Cat Lafitte's name, you may remember her actions: She was one of three police officers fired in June 2011 for violating department policy. Lafitte's offenses, according to DPD? Getting into a physical fight with a hospital orderly in a Plano ER, then posting comments about it on her Facebook page that, in the words of the department's press release, would "by their nature have a tendency to adversely affect, lower or destroy public respect and confidence in the Dallas Police Department." In the press release announcing her firing, Lafitte was also faulted for being absent without leave for a week and violating DPD's sick leave policy.
Now, Lafitte has filed an ethics complaint against DPD Chief David Brown, Assistant Chief Vincent Golbeck and another five of her superior officers, as well as Assistant City Manager A.C. Gonzalez. The Ethics Advisory Commission is set to conduct a preliminary review of her complaints on Friday morning.
In an interview with Unfair Park several weeks ago, Lafitte alleged that her superiors within DPD created a hostile work environment, worked her to the point of exhaustion and delirium, then refused to offer her adequate mental healthcare, no matter how much she begged. Lafitte also says that after the fight with the orderly in Plano -- which she maintains he started -- she spent a week asking her DPD superiors to help her find mental health treatment and was ignored, although the department did find time to talk to the press about her Facebook postings.
"It was excruciating," she said, her eyes welling up. "I was begging for help. ... There is no mental healthcare for police officers."
Lafitte says that in 2011 she'd been happily employed by DPD for six years. "I loved it," she said. "I loved the variety and the action. I'm a total adrenaline junkie and a problem-solver." But over several weeks in February, she says a number of things went wrong: She injured her knee during a play-fight with her partner. She found out DPD was denying a request she'd put in to transfer to another station and that she was being put on a graveyard shift, although as a single mother, she wouldn't be able to find childcare. And she and her partner worked nearly 38 hours straight on very little sleep over Super Bowl weekend, during a time when Lafitte says she was ill with walking pneumonia, for which she'd been taking steroids. Lots of steroids.
Lafitte says she visited the Plano ER to get treatment for her injured knee; while she and a friend were waiting to see a doctor, she was making a series of phone calls to her superiors and the Fraternal Order of Police about her denied request to transfer to another station. What she didn't realize until later, she says, was that all of her phone calls sounded completely insane.
"I was making crazy phone calls and sending crazy texts," she told us. The nurse took her blood pressure and Lafitte, a former nursing assistant, realized it was dangerously high. Later, Lafitte realized she was probably having a reaction to the steroids, but at the time, as she put it, "all my focus was on yelling into the phone."
Enter the Plano orderly, who apparently overheard Lafitte screaming obscenities at her superiors and remarked, "Oh no, not in my ER," which Lafitte's friend overheard. The friend tried to shush Lafitte, but she would not be shushed. A moment later, as she sat in a hospital room in just a hospital-issued gown and underwear, the orderly came in and, according to Laffite, yelled, "That's it, you're outta here."
"I put my hand up and said, 'Get the fuck out,'" Lafitte said. She says the orderly made a run at her, knocked the phone out of her hand and got her in a choke-hold. When she resisted, he shoved her hard into a bedside table. Panicked, she started throwing her clothes at him: first her jeans, then her boots. "That hit him in the face, broke his glasses, and scratched his face," she said. Lafitte made a run for the door and the orderly tackled her again.
Security was called. Plano police were called. The orderly at first wanted to press assault charges, then apparently changed his mind. DPD's Internal Affairs unit showed up and drove Lafitte home. Before they left, they took Lafitte's guns and told her she was on administrative leave. She told them she understood.
Then, Lafitte says, she noticed a never-used cabinet in her house was open, and being a cop, understood that someone from DPD must have searched her house. She texted a superior, "What were they flipping my house for?"
"Bodies," the officer texted back. Her phone calls had been so wild, they were concerned Lafitte's daughter might be hurt.
Over the following week, Lafitte says she told several of her superiors that something was "seriously wrong."
"Something's going on with me," she says she told one officer, who's named in her ethics complaint, in a phone call. "I need a doctor. This is an emergency." She says at one point, her neighbors found her pacing in the backyard, clutching her shirt to her chest and yelling, "Signal 15, Signal 15!" an officer code for distress, over and over.
"I was going out of my mind begging for help," she said. But the department didn't respond, and about a week after the hospital fight, manic, exhausted and "self-medicating with Jack Daniel's," she got on Facebook.
As the Morning News noted at the time, Lafitte wrote on her wall that during her fight with the orderly, ""I threw my boot at him, Jerry Springer style, and nailed him in the face. It broke his glasses and cut his face and bruised it up real good!"
The same article also said that she described herself on Facebook an "Official Bum Roller," which the paper called "a police lingo reference to dealing with homeless people," and that she'd posted a troubling photo of a black child surrounded by police officer, with the comment, "Quick ... sprinkle some crack on him!"
Lafitte says that image, which was posted months before the posts about the fight, was actually a picture of a black child on a tricycle, surrounded by white cops, with the words, "Damn 5-0," underneath it, and that the "crack" comment is a Dave Chappelle quote. She also says no one from the department called to tell her that the Facebook posts were out of line. But later they were used in the rationale for her firing.
"I'm the most unracist person you'll ever meet," she said. "DPD's M.O. is if they want to discredit you is to make you look racist."
It's a tangled web, to be sure. On Friday, the Ethics Advisory Commission will try to determine if any of this violates the city's ethics codes; a previous complaint Lafitte lodged with the City Manager's Office against DPD went unanswered, which explains Assistant City Manager A.C. Gonzalez's presence on the complaint.
In the meantime, Lafitte says she's working as a waitress at a "titty bar" and suffering from severe PTSD, anxiety disorder, and agoraphobia.
"I'm a nervous wreck," she said. "The city has mental disability [payment], and I really need it. It's a full-time job fighting this crap. I suffer every day."