Archive for Wednesday, June 18, 2003

Police officer placed on leave

BCPD does background check

June 18, 2003

A Baldwin City police officer has been placed on leave indefinitely and his attorney, Dennis Hawver, isn't too pleased.

Cpl. Bill Dempsey was placed on paid leave June 10, according to Baldwin Police Chief Mike McKenna, because of a personnel issue. McKenna would not comment further on Dempsey's leave.

However, Hawver didn't mince words about the action and spelled out exactly what his client has been suspended for.

"Bill was a 19-year-old kid in California, running with the wrong crowd and was convicted of auto theft," Hawver said. "He was convicted, but it has since been expunged by the California judicial system.

"I'm not afraid to say so and neither is Bill," he said. "The person who hired him knew it (about the felony conviction) and everyone on the city council at the time did, too."

The conviction was discovered a week or so ago when routine background checks were done on the entire staff after McKenna discovered that had not been done. By law, such background checks are to be done each year. When they were done recently, Dempsey's 1964 conviction was discovered and the city took action. New City Attorney Matt Hoy said there was little choice in placing Dempsey on leave for a three week period to let due process take its course.

"Under Kansas statute, a convicted felon cannot be a police officer," said Hoy. "We really can't say anything else beyond that. We really don't want to say too much about it. This is a personnel matter that the city has rules about and we are following those rules."

Neither Hoy nor McKenna would comment on how Dempsey was hired in the first place.

Hawver, however, thinks the matter was discovered as a continuation of harassment his client has received as the result of filing a federal lawsuit against the city last year alleging violation of his First and Fourteenth amendment rights.

"These people want to fight and abuse my clients," said Hawver. "I guess they'll have to pay for it later. When we get on the stand, it's going to be hard for them to explain why the second ranking police officer in the department has been reduced to rattling doors at night.

"I believe the police chief is being used by the mayor," he said. "I'm thinking of suing him (Mayor Ken Hayes) individually. They've turned him (Dempsey) into a pariah trying to force him out. This is all about Geech Rhea. The mayor will not stop. He's building me an excellent case. There's nothing I can do now, but I will later. It will be up to a jury to determine if this action was reasonable or vindictive."

Dempsey brought alleged problems with G.H. Rhea to the attention of then Police Chief Steve Butell in the spring of 2001. Dempsey then took the matter to city officials in June of 2001, which prompted an investigation into the entire department. Rhea resigned shortly after.

An extensive investigation was conducted by attorney Robert Bennett, as well as the Kansas Highway Patrol and Kansas Bureau if Investigation. The "Bennett Report" was never made public. The other investigations discovered a problem with use of the national crime computer and the department was placed on probation from use of it for a month and had to attend training. Later on several members of the department, including Dempsey and Butell, were suspended, Dempsey for a day and Butell for four days. Reasons for the suspensions were never revealed because they were personnel matters. Butell resigned as chief in July of 2002, but no official reason for that was given, other than a breech of policy unrelated to the other matters. Butell has since been hired as Wellsville Police Chief.

Dempsey, two other current officers and a former officer filed lawsuits through Hawver seeking more than $300,000 earlier this year. Hawver contends that the latest personnel matter with Dempsey results from that.

"I'm extremely disappointed that this type of personal vendetta is taking place," Hawver said. "I will use this. I'm telling you about all of this. It's pretty transparent that this is what this is all about."

McKenna, who was hired as the new chief in January, said Dempsey's absence would not affect staffing at the police department.

"We will be adequately staffed to provide 24-hour service to the city," he said. "We will not jeopardize the security of the community."

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