NOLA-A Gretna police officer was fired and arrested on criminal charges, accused of kicking a handcuffed burglary suspect in an incident caught on video, authorities said Friday (Sept. 16). Robert Wallow, 47, was booked with simple battery and malfeasance in office, Chief Arthur Lawson said.
“This is not one of the brightest days of the Gretna Police Department,” Lawson said.
Wallow had responded to a business burglary April 22 when surveillance cameras recorded him kicking suspect Carlos Gustavo Pineda, 21, as the man lay handcuffed on the ground.
Wallow was placed on administrative leave on Aug. 26. The department terminated him Thursday.
“We certainly have acted swiftly upon discovering this information,” Lawson said.
At least one other officer has been placed on administrative leave, Lawson said, though he did not name the officer.
Lawson is also investigating why it took so long for police administration to learn of the excessive force allegation in light of an internal investigation opened by Wallow’s supervisors in the Field Operations Bureau on April 25.
“It all had been documented, it just did not move as quickly as it should have,” Lawson said.
The burglary occurred about 3:05 a.m. at Latino Express, 61 West Bank Expressway, Gretna, Deputy Chief Anthony Christiana said. Someone had smashed a window on the front door of the store. Officers spotted a cash register and money sitting outside.
Pineda, of Metairie, exited the building wearing a ski mask and was taken into custody.
Video of the incident shows Wallow punching Pineda three times on the right side of his head and neck before Pineda is handcuffed, police said. Afterwards, Wallow kicks Pineda in the side and twice more in the side and head, police said.
Other officers can be seen coming and going as Wallow stands over Pineda. Police believed there to be one, maybe two additional suspects inside the store, Lawson said.
Neither Pineda nor his attorney ever reported any excessive force, according to Lawson. Authorities linked him to similar business burglaries in Kenner and unincorporated Jefferson Parish.
Pineda pleaded guilty to four counts of simple burglary on July 15 and was ordered to serve one year of active probation after Judge Glen Ansardi suspended a one-year prison term.
Gretna police didn’t learn of the incident until Aug. 25 during an “internal inquiry” into another, unrelated matter, Lawson said.
The chief declined to identify the nature of the other internal inquiry, but said it did not concern Wallow. However, the allegation of excessive force came to light, and the department opened an internal investigation into Wallow’s actions, according to Lawson.
Both the Gretna police and the Jefferson Parish district attorney’s office had a copy of the surveillance video, which had been collected as evidence in the burglary investigation.
Once officials viewed the video on Aug. 29, they opened a criminal investigation, Christiana said.
“Based on this investigation, and the camera surveillance footage, it is clear that Officer Wallow had committed battery on Mr. Pineda by both striking him with a closed fist as well as kicking Pineda to the head and torso. At the time of the battery, Carlos Pineda posed no danger to Officer Wallow,” Lawson said in a written statement.
In addition to interviewing the officers at the scene on the night of Pineda’s arrest, Lawson said he is probing his department’s response during the investigation of Wallow.
The use of excessive force by Wallow was apparently reported to supervisors with the Field Operations Bureau in the days after Pineda’s arrest, according to Lawson. The supervisors opened a documented internal investigation that included a copy of the video.
The supervisors handled the investigation on a bureau level. But it was not forwarded to the administration as quickly as Lawson would have liked so the department on Sept. 15 opened an internal investigation into the handling of that excessive force report.
“We are looking at the process that took so long for it to become known to the administration. That, I’m not happy with,” he said.
Wallow had been with the department for about 18 months.
He previously served in the Westwego Police department, according to Lt. Eric Orlando, a department spokesman. Wallow graduated from the Gretna Police Academy in early 2012 and joined the Westwego police, Orlando said.
Wallow did not have any discipline problems there. He resigned from Westwego police in 2015 to join Gretna police, Orlando said.