Archive for Thursday, September 1, 2005

It’s finally time to put police problems in past

September 1, 2005

It was a long drawn out story that many new Baldwin City residents might not even know about. It was the saga of a situation that went wrong in the Baldwin City Police Department almost five years ago that resulted in lawsuits and, ultimately, almost a complete turnover in the department, City Hall and the city council.

The first chapter of the bizarre tale was written in 2001. I hope the final chapter has been written with the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals' ruling in favor of the city and reaffirming the decision of a District Court judge last year that found the city had not violated the 1st and 14th Amendment rights of four former police officers who were seeking a $1 million-plus judgment.

It's impossible to recount each and every strange twist that this process took from the days when officers went to members of the city council with their concerns about a fellow officer. The officers complained that their concerns weren't being dealt with by the former chief of police.

That's the key phrase here as the final chapter is being written -- former.

All the key players in what unfolded are gone. I'm not even going to use their names. It doesn't matter anymore. It's over.

We have a completely new police department, from head to toe. There's a new chief and the entire staff of officers have no connection to the former department. What problems there were are gone.

It certainly didn't happen without a lot of others leaving. We now have a new city administrator, city attorney, mayor and council, with the exception of one lone holdover on the council. It's pretty amazing.

But, so is the story. It includes the bizarre behavior of the one officer where it all began. Court records show (the appeal's court's ruling is available online at http://www.kscourts.org/ca10/cases/2005/08/04-3347.htm) that he talked to his shotgun, provided alcohol to minors, drove impaired and many other items.

However, that's just where it started. The tale also includes the taping of a conversation by an officer with a city official who didn't know it was being taped. It includes an offer that the tape "would go away" if disciplinary actions taken against the officers were done away with.

And, then there's my favorite -- one of the officers shooting an injured cat in downtown Baldwin with his 9mm service pistol, despite the animal control vehicle being parked within plain sight and several city council members watching in disbelief from across the street.

No, this amazing sojourn had more than its share of twists and turns along the way.

Of course, one of the biggest items was "politics." That was certainly the contention of the officers who sued. And, of course, there were politics involved in the whole mess, but that had nothing to do with the punishments -- a day's suspension for three and a written reprimand for the fourth -- which resulted in the lawsuit.

That can no longer be a matter of Baldwin opinion. It's a matter of law. The opinions of both the District Court and the Circuit Court of Appeals who reviewed the case are what count. Both courts say the city did no wrong. Policies were followed to the letter. That's where the punishments came from. The grievance policy was also followed to the letter.

As a city, we can be thankful for that. As a city, we can be satisfied that justice was served. As a city, we can move on.

It's about time.

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