Archive for Wednesday, September 26, 2001

Police probe is finished

September 26, 2001

Although criminal allegations leveled at a former Baldwin City Police Officer were proven to be unfounded, civil allegations still remain unresolved in a department that City Administrator Larry Paine termed as "divided," and said will undergo changes in polices and procedures.

Preliminary results of a two-month investigation into the police department's policies and procedures, as well as allegations against former officer G.H. Rhea who resigned in July, were presented to the Baldwin City Council last Wednesday night. The council met in executive session for more than two-and-a-half hours in City Hall.

Paine and City Attorney Bob Bezek then held a press conference in the Baldwin City Library to release what little information they and the council had determined could be made public from Special Counsel Mark Bennett's investigation.

Bennett was hired by the council to conduct the probe. Also involved in the investigation were the Kansas Bureau of Investigation and the Kansas Highway Patrol. The KBI looked into the criminal allegations and determined them to be "unfounded." Paine again declined to reveal what those allegations involved.

The only information he did release was a capsule of the events that transpired to cause the investigation and that the matter was under advisement.

"The results we received were preliminary in nature," said Paine. "Mr. Bennett has not finished his report."

Paine had requested the preliminary report because he will be gone for 10 days. He and the council didn't want further delays in the probe that had lasted two months, instead of the month intended.

He said the preliminary report did two things: 1) determined that criminal allegations were unfounded; and 2) that policies and procedures within the department needed to be addressed. Paine declined to say what those policies and procedures were, as did Mayor Ken Hayes. Hayes was relieved to have the criminal allegations put to rest.

"Officially the preliminary findings found our police department was free of any criminal wrong doing and that we have numerous policy, procedural and management issues that need to be addressed," said Hayes. "I'm going to decline to say what those procedural and policy matters are until we have the written report. In the context of the written report, we will take action to reshape our department."

Paine said he expects a full report to be presented to the council soon and, after reviewing, any actions deemed necessary could occur then. He said it's doubtful the results of the probe will be made public and stressed that the biggest effort before him and the council is to ensure that the "divided" police department be brought back together. The issues have split the eight-person department.

"We expect within the next week we'll have a copy (of the report) for the council to review," said Paine. "This is still a private document. Those issues will be left in a private fashion.

"We have some concerns about our officers being able to work back together now," he said, adding that a consulting firm has been hired to start that process. "The objective of that process is to rebuild relationships through communication between the various officers so we can have a normalized department."

Bezek's comments concerned the alleged criminal actions within the department and that civil suits could still result, which is one of the reasons that findings from the investigation won't be released.

"The allegations of criminal conduct were responded on by the KBI and were ruled unfounded and there was nothing to proceed on there," said Bezek. "Because of possible pending litigation, the council has decided not to release the document. There are privacy issues involved. Depending on what happens, there could be civil action."

Paine said all of the eight people in the department were involved with the investigation "to one degree or another." He said the completed report should be presented to the council at its Oct. 1 meeting.

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