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Thursday, Nov. 10, 2011 05:14 pm

Controversial detective returns to police work

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Paul Carpenter is back on the job at the Springfield Police Department.

But a defense attorney familiar with Carpenter’s record questions whether the veteran officer, who was fired then reinstated with back pay pursuant to an arbitrator’s order issued in August, can be an effective cop.

“I think it would be very difficult for him,” said attorney Jon Gray Noll. “If I were supervising him, I’d not put him in a position where he’d go to court. My guess is he’s going to be doing bicycle safety training.”

Deputy chief Cliff Buscher said that Carpenter returned to work on Sept. 4 as a detective assigned to investigate property crimes such as burglary and vandalism.

“According to the arbitrator, we had to make him whole, so he was put back in his old assignment in the criminal investigations division,” Buscher said.

Noll successfully defended Larry Washington against felony drug charges, which were dropped in 2007. Washington walked after a test by Illinois State Police showed no cocaine on plastic bags that Carpenter and his then-partner said contained drug residue. The detectives had found the bags in Washington’s trash, according to a 2005 application for a search warrant. Police subsequently said they found a half-kilo of cocaine during a search of Washington’s house.

After charges were dropped, Washington sued in federal court, but a jury last year rejected claims that police lied to obtain the search warrant and violated his civil rights.

Despite the jury verdict, Noll said that Carpenter is tainted. Cases often live or die in pre-trial motions in which defense attorneys argue that evidence should be suppressed, Noll said, and Carpenter’s past could hamstring prosecutors.

“His credibility would definitely be questioned by judges,” Noll said. “You get a search warrant (application) signed by Paul Carpenter; well, the last one signed by him turned out to be false.”

Buscher said it’s possible that Carpenter will apply for search warrants.

“He’ll be going back to all the duties he had before,” Buscher said. “So far, he’s doing fine.”

Asked if prosecutors are concerned about the prospect of Carpenter signing sworn affidavits to secure search warrants, state’s attorney John Milhiser said that every case is different.

“We look at the facts presented in each individual case to make sure there’s sufficient evidence,” Milhiser said. “Ultimately, it’s up to the court to decide if a warrant should be issued.”

Milhiser declined to say whether prosecutors are concerned about Carpenter testifying in court.

Carpenter could not be reached for comment.

While Carpenter has been reinstated with back pay and benefits, Graham, his former partner, has sued Ron Stone, lawyer for the police union, for negligence, claiming that Stone failed to follow grievance procedures.

Like Carpenter, Graham appealed his dismissal from the force, but an arbitrator threw out the case without considering merits, saying that the dismissal hadn’t first been appealed to the mayor, as required by a collective bargaining agreement. A judge ultimately upheld the arbitrator’s decision, and so Graham remains a former cop.

In a motion for dismissal filed last month, David Drake, Stone’s lawyer, said the former detective’s case was filed after a two-year deadline had expired, and so it should be tossed. According to Drake’s motion, the clock started ticking in early 2008, when the arbitrator ruled.

Not so, according to John Kerley, Graham’s lawyer, who said in an interview that the statute of limitations didn’t expire until this fall, on the two-year anniversary of a court ruling that upheld the arbitrator’s decision.

Kerley said the case is in the early stages, and it’s impossible to know how long it will take to adjudicate.

Drake could not be reached for comment.

Contact Bruce Rushton at brushton@illinoistimes.com.
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