The St. Tammany Parish coroner ruled that the death of a New Orleans police officer under investigation by the FBI was a suicide.
Officer Salvadore Battaglia’s body was found in his house on the night of Feb. 7. Dr. Peter R. Galvan, St. Tammany Parish coroner, confirmed the death by suicide. He said autopsy findings “are gunshot wound of head. The toxicology findings are pending.”
Bruce Whittaker, Battaglia’s attorney, said the investigation involved a false insurance claim benefiting someone else. The federal investigation centers on New Orleans police Sgt. Kevin Guillot, according to Guillot’s attorney, Eric Hessler, who spoke to The Times-Picayune. News of the investigation broke on television on Feb. 7 about a week after the investigation began.
Sheila Thorne, an FBI special agent and spokeswoman for the New Orleans office, declined to comment on the investigation. No one has been charged.
Federal investigators believe Guillot reported a vehicle stolen from Jefferson Parish and later recovered the damaged vehicle in New Orleans, Hessler said. Guillot filed an insurance claim for reimbursement. Investigators believe the reports associated with that claim were fraudulent.
“The whole situation is a sad situation,” Hessler said. “There were bad decisions made by all involved.”
Jefferson Parish Sheriff Newell Normand said that a deputy, Daniel Spears, apparently participated in the scheme and assisted in creating a fraudulent report.
The sheriff’s office was tipped off to the alleged scheme by federal investigators. Last week, shortly after Normand was notified, Spears resigned from the force.
Normand said his agency has been cooperating with federal investigators and that he has no reason to believe Spears was involved in any additional alleged fraud schemes.
Battaglia allegedly assisted Guillot in reporting the recovered vehicle in New Orleans.
Whittaker said Battaglia was simply trying to help a friend, and played a minor role in the alleged scheme. “In doing so, he crossed the line,” Whittaker said.
Battaglia was cooperating with federal investigators from the inception of the investigation and “doing all that he could to repair the damage that was done,” Whittaker added. “It’s tragic that it ended this way.”
The St. Tammany Parish Sheriff’s office received a call about 10:30 p.m. on Feb. 7 from a relative of Battaglia, advising them that Battaglia may have been contemplating suicide, according to sheriff’s Capt. George Bonnett.
Deputies responded to Battaglia’s house, just outside of Madisonville, and found Battaglia in his bedroom with “injuries appearing consistent with a gunshot,” Bonnett said. Battaglia was transported to St. Tammany Parish Hospital, where he was pronounced dead.
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