Archive for Wednesday, October 3, 2001

Officers’ attorney outlines problems to council

October 3, 2001

The Baldwin City Council has the police investigation report, but that doesn't mean the problems have subsided in the Baldwin City Police Department, as evident by the appearance of an attorney and four Baldwin police officers Monday night at the council meeting.

"We need time to digest it and read through it," Mayor Ken Hayes said of the 50-page report Monday night at the city council meeting.

The report, from special counsel Mark Bennett, contains the findings of the two-month investigation into the police department's policies and procedures, which originally stemmed from allegations made against former officer G.H. Rhea, who resigned in July. Rhea has denied all allegations.

Hayes said the report did not cover the investigation into the allegation made against Rhea and his alleged use of the Interstate Identification Index (III) for personal use. He said that investigation is still being conducted by the Kansas Highway Patrol.

"The triple I investigation, it has not been completed," Hayes said. "But I will personally be following up for a timeline as to when it will be finished."

The council chose to go ahead and read Bennett's report before the KHP's report was complete, Hayes said.

"We took the reports as they came in," he said.

At a press conference Sept. 19, City Administrator Larry Paine said the preliminary report stated the police department was innocent of any criminal wrongdoing.

But some officers in the police department are not satisfied with the investigation and how it was conducted.

Officers Charles Woolsoncroft, Eric Garcia, Bill Dempsey and Charles Hensley retained attorney Dennis Hawver, Ozawkie, to represent them.

Hawver addressed the city council Monday night with a detailed list of concerns he said his clients had about the current work environment in the police department.

"My clients hired me because they are frightened, they are worried and they are concerned," Hawver said. "They are worried they are being set up, that files are being built on them. They are concerned they will be removed from their jobs."

He said when the four officers first shared concerns they had about Rhea to Police Chief Steve Butell, the concerns were dismissed. Since then, the four men said they have been harassed by other officers in the department, including Butell and Sgt. Colleen Larson, Hawver said

"When it was brought to the attention of the chief of police, my clients were told 'Don't worry, I'll take care of this' and it was swept under the rug," Hawver said. "For bringing it to his attention, they're being singled out individually and as a group.

"They then were somehow given a mantle or condition that perhaps they were not loyal, perhaps they were not sticking together with the other police officers and good police officers should," he said.

Lack of communication, unfair scheduling of shifts and officers being written up are a few of the problems the four officers said they deal with on a day to day basis, he said.

Hawver also went into further detail about the harassment and abuse the men said they go through at work.

"This type of petty coercion is not the way to do this," he said. "This is known in the legal profession as a hostile work environment."

Hawver said his clients were concerned with the way the original investigation was handled.

"That investigation was essentially squelched, perhaps by Mr. Paine," he said.

The officers want another investigation of the department's policies and procedures conducted, he said.

"I haven't been hired to litigate," he said. "I've been hired to conciliate."

He said his clients are just interested in returning to their jobs in a normal workplace.

"I tell you now, none of my clients want the chief's job," Hawver said. "They simply want the chief to do his job. Their jobs are what they want to do.

"They like their jobs, but they don't like the abuse," he said.

Neither Butell nor Larson were available at the council meeting or afterward for comment because they are attending an advanced supervision and management training session in Hutchinson this week.

After an hour in executive session, Hayes said the council was aware there were still problems within the police department.

"We were made aware in a very public way tonight," he said. "But I heartily encourage employees to use proper grievance procedures.

"At this point, this is all we have to state," Hayes said.

In other business, the city council:

Approved 5-0 to set the hearing date to determine if the structure at 1003 Ninth St. is unsafe for Nov. 19 at the Baldwin City Public Library.

Approved 5-0 to authorize public works to spend money for upgrades to the water booster pump station.

Received an update on the trash cans to be purchased for the downtown area. Ten concrete trash cans will be purchased at $315 each. The council originally approved $2,500 for the purchase of the trash cans. The extra $650 needed will be given by private donations and possibly the Maple Leaf Festival committee. The city hopes to have the trash cans in place by the Maple Leaf Festival.

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