Archive for Wednesday, December 12, 2001

Police chief, three officers suspended

December 12, 2001

Baldwin City Police Chief Steve Butell and three officers have been suspended as a result of the Bennett Investigation conducted this summer into allegations brought against a former officer, which revealed a variety of shortcomings in the department, sources say.

Butell was suspended for three days and the three officers Bill Dempsey, Eric Garcia and Chuck Woolsencroft received one-day suspensions, sources said. All four have the opportunity to appeal, but as of Tuesday had not. They have until today at 5 p.m. to appeal. The suspensions will be served beginning Dec. 17.

"Yes, the chief and three of the officers were suspended," said Mayor Ken Hayes. "This is due to the results of the Bennett report. The city council chose to digest the report and after lengthy discussion, decided what action to take."

The council hired Topeka attorney Mark Bennett as special counsel in July to conduct an investigation into allegations of misconduct brought against former Baldwin officer G.H. Rhea, as well as a general review of the department. Rhea resigned three days later.

George McCrary, the city council's chairman on the public safety committee, said the disciplinary action was taken as a direct result of the investigation, but that it wasn't just focused on the alleged actions of Rhea.

"The Bennett report really just told us what we already knew, but that police officer had already resigned. Everyone knew that there was a problem there," said McCrary. "What it's led to is accountability. The investigation was not just on the individual, it was on the department as a whole. The investigation was not directed at one individual, it was directed as a group."

Hayes agreed, adding that the investigation discovered problems with the department's policies and procedures, and was summarized by what Bennett termed a "lack of administrative control." But, those weren't all the reasons for the suspensions.

"There are multiple reasons for the suspensions and those would be two of them," Hayes said.

As to why it took almost six months for action to be taken as a result of the investigation, Hayes said there were numerous reasons. He also said there could be further action taken.

"We were making decisions that would affect people's careers and livelihoods and those are obviously decisions you shouldn't rush into," he said. "In addition to the Bennett report, we've had counselors working with our police department to get the department working correctly.

"If the department is not capable of functioning correctly, then personnel changes will be made," said Hayes. "I have a responsibility to insure the public safety of our community. If our current force is incapable of accomplishing that, I will find people who are capable of achieving that goal."

Both Hayes and McCrary declined to name the three officers that were suspended. They also wouldn't reveal specifics as to why those suspensions were handed down.

"Those are personnel matters that I can't really go into detail on," said McCrary. "But as far as the individuals, it's not just about discipline, it's about accountability.

"The suspensions are a part of that accountability," he said. "It lets people know that we aren't going to set back and do nothing. This hasn't been an easy investigation for a young council. I think we've all learned from it."

There may be additional action taken on other matters. The suspensions handed down Friday were not related to the shooting in West Baldwin in October. A Baldwin man was hospitalized and another arrested as a result of the shooting. The Douglas County Sheriff's office was asked to conduct that investigation.

"At this point, no disciplinary action has been taken as a result of the shooting," said Hayes. "These decisions were based solely on the Bennett report."

City Administrator Larry Paine met with each member of the police department Friday. Although there were four suspensions, the others were also reprimanded.

"These are disciplinary actions that I dealt with Friday with all of the police department," said Paine. "Every member of the police department was involved."

He declined to give any other specifics. Butell has declined to talk about the Bennett Investigation or the shooting, and declined to comment on his suspension Friday.

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