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Thursday, March 27, 2003 02:20 pm

A rough draft

City Council gets to peek at the SPD investigation

The investigation that was going to take just three weeks and cost $15,000 is finally ready—almost ready, that is. Last Tuesday night, after spending 20 minutes discussing an early-retirement plan for city employees, the City Council spent 90 minutes in executive session listening to attorney Chris Nichols from the Peoria firm Husch & Eppenberger present an abridged version of the report. The firm was contracted by the city to investigate incidents involving two African-American officers in the Springfield Police Department—Renatta Frazier, who resigned last summer, and Lieutenant Rickey Davis. Frazier was the subject of a 2002 SPD internal affairs investigation allegedly into the question of whether or not she could have prevented the rape of a white officer’s daughter. The department’s decision to allow that erroneous report to be repeated in the media scores of times is one of the topics of the Husch & Eppenberger report. The law firm also investigated Davis’s charge that he was followed and harassed by fellow SPD officers. Both Frazier and Davis are among the plaintiffs in a racial discrimination lawsuit nine black SPD officers have filed against the city. Council members entered the session talking about the “report,” which some say had been delivered to the mayor the previous day, and later emerged calling it a “draft.” All seemed resolved not to leak anything to the media. But before the meeting Alderman Chuck Redpath—one of the three council members who had asked for the topic to be addressed at the meeting—offered this prediction: “It’s almost got to be damaging to [SPD] chief [John Harris],” Redpath said. “It’s going to show he didn’t have control of the department and that the people working for him were rogues of some type. It ultimately falls back on the chief and the mayor.” He said he hoped that, sooner or later, the report will be made public. “We need to get this all out on the table. We don’t need to be hiding anything,” he said. After the council meeting, Redpath declined to comment on the closed-door briefing session, but said he stood by his earlier remarks. Alderman Frank McNeil, responding to questions from some of the black SPD officers who are suing the city, said neither he nor any other council member was given a copy of the Peoria report. “They wouldn’t give [the draft] to us,” he said, “and I think you know why.” Courtney Cox, the attorney representing the black officers suing the city, said his only hope is that the Peoria report is honest. “They were still gathering information from the police department as late as last week, which indicates to me that there is a tremendous amount of information that has been gathered,” Cox said. “As long as they accurately and truthfully report what has occurred here, I feel confident that it’s going to show that this is a police department whose leadership lacks integrity and competency.” Frazier attended the meeting and said she wasn’t surprised that the report is still being kept confidential. “Just knowing this administration and their tactics, I didn’t expect it to be released,” she said. “Judging from how they’ve handled my case in the past, they only release information that can be damaging to me or maybe to Rickey Davis. When it comes to anything that could be damaging to them or their careers, then they use every tactic to delay. “In my case, the mayor made a statement saying she wanted all the information released. They did that, without my consent, without my attorney’s consent,” she said, referring to the decision made by corporate counsel Bob Rogers to release several internal affairs investigations, including videotaped interviews, to the media last November. “They didn’t care how damaging that could be to me personally, to my children, to my career—that didn’t concern them.” As of Tuesday night, only Mayor Karen Hasara and Rogers had the draft report. Hasara publicly pledged her “intention to release at least part of” the final version to the public. The law firm conducting the investigation went over budget and past deadline numerous times. The final bill has yet to be delivered. The lengthy closed-door session left an odd mix of interested parties stranded in the council chamber. Frazier was there, along with her husband, B.J., and other officers who are plaintiffs in the race discrimination lawsuit. Chief John Harris was there, with assistant chiefs Ralph Caldwell and James Burton, SPD counsel William G. Workman, and division manager Don Schluter. Other civic activists, a cable access TV host, a write-in mayoral candidate, and members of the media rounded out the cast of characters. Long after most people left, Hasara stayed, chatting quietly in the front row of the council chamber with a small group of people including Gina Larkin, the city’s director of human resources, and Jim Gates, the city’s labor manager. Hasara, Larkin, and Gates happen to be the very players who would need to confer about any significant personnel changes. When a reporter and a black police officer entered the chamber, the little group in the front row suddenly dispersed.
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