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Wednesday, Oct. 12, 2005 12:07 pm

Top detective put on leave

But prosecutor says the move won’t derail the “Fresh” investigation

The investigation into the murder of popular hairstylists Barron “Mr. Fresh” Rice and girlfriend Lakisha Criss hit a snag last week when the lead detective on the case was put on paid administrative leave. Springfield Police Detective Paul Carpenter had handled the case since the two were found shot to death in their East Lawrence Street home on May 25, the victims of an apparent home invasion and robbery. Carpenter surrendered his badge and gun Oct. 4, pending the outcome of an unrelated internal investigation, according to several SPD sources who spoke on the condition of anonymity.  
At the same time, Carpenter’s longtime partner, Detective Jim Graham, was transferred out of SPD’s major-case unit and assigned to general investigations. Chief Don Kliment declined to comment, citing the department’s longstanding policy of not discussing personnel matters. However, SPD spokesman Sgt. Kevin Keen confirmed that Carpenter’s caseload has been transferred to another officer. “Detective Rick Dhabalt has been given all the cases previously assigned to Carpenter and is now working those cases,” he said. The involuntary moves for these two detectives, unrelated to the Rice-Criss investigation, come at a time when officers believed that they were close to solving the case, according to SPD sources. “It couldn’t have happened at a worse time,” one officer says. Carpenter and Graham had worked together in the major-case unit since at least 1999. Last spring, Carpenter sought and received a transfer to general investigations. But when Rice and Criss were killed, Carpenter’s well-established rapport with residents on the east side of town earned him the assignment to the case. Steve Weinhoeft, first assistant state’s attorney, says that losing Carpenter won’t derail the job of finding the couple’s killer or killers.
“This matter is not going to affect that case — it’s going to continue to be aggressively investigated,” he says. “I recently met with half-a-dozen officers for an update on that case. We meet regularly to discuss the progress of the investigation.”
Bob Markovic, president of Police Benevolent and Protective Agency Unit 5, refused to confirm or comment on Carpenter’s current status but said that administrative leave doesn’t necessarily indicate that an officer is facing discipline. “It does sound worse than it is,” Markovic said.
Administrative leave may foreshadow termination, or it may be a precautionary removal of an officer’s police powers during the fact-finding phase of an investigation. Sometimes administrative leave is simply a courtesy extended to an officer who has been involved in a traumatic incident. Markovic said that “a handful” of officers have been put on administrative leave under the administration of Kliment, who became chief in June 2003. Carpenter and Graham recently came under scrutiny after an investigator, an attorney, and a parolee filed separate complaints with SPD’s office of professional standards accusing the officers of misconduct. In February, private investigator Bill Clutter accused Graham of perjury and both Carpenter and Graham of concealing reports and intimidating a mentally handicapped witness during the November 2004 trial of Anthony Grimm, charged with the 1994 murder of Tonia Smith [see “Credibility question” Feb. 24]. After reading about Clutter’s complaints in Illinois Times, defense attorney Bruce Locher renewed a complaint he had filed in 2001 against Carpenter, Graham, and another SPD detective, Steve Welsh [see “Fast track” April 21]. Locher’s complaint encompassed three cases in which misconduct by the detectives resulted in the dismissal of felony charges. In May, parolee Thomas Munoz filed a complaint after Carpenter, Graham, and Dhabalt arrested him in Divernon for the alleged attempted burglary of a church in Rochester [see “To tell the truth,” May 5]. Rochester’s police chief, Bill Marass, told Illinois Times that he had no evidence of a crime, and no SPD official explained why Springfield detectives made an arrest in Divernon. Charges against Munoz were dropped, but, Munoz said, the arrest cost him his job.
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