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Thursday, April 17, 2003 02:20 pm

SPD's "Culture of Deniability"

The Springfield Police Department had no legitimate excuse for failing to correct erroneous and salacious accusations against former officer Renatta Frazier, according to the summary of a report released last Tuesday night. Furthermore, the summary says, many people in the department knew the truth and had multiple opportunities to remedy the situation.

The Peoria law firm of Husch & Eppenberger delivered the executive summary of its five-month investigation into the SPD, and the City Council released the executive summary to the public. Corporation Counsel Bob Rogers brought a big batch of copies, which were freely distributed to the media and other members of the audience.

The full 90-page report had not been released as of press time, but it likely will be available soon. Rogers publicly promised Alderman Frank McNeil that a copy of the full report would be given to him on Wednesday.

Husch & Eppenberger was originally hired in November to investigate the SPD's handling of cases involving two African American officers--Lieutenant Rickey Davis and Renatta Frazier. The firm was asked to investigate Davis's complaint that he was being followed and harassed by SPD's internal affairs department, and to examine SPD's response to published allegations that Frazier had failed to prevent the rape of another officer's daughter. The erroneous allegations were broadcast widely for almost a year until Illinois Times published a story documenting that the rape had happened before Frazier was ever dispatched.

In the days following that revelation, Chief John Harris and SPD's legal advisor William Workman told the City Council there was nothing anyone in the department could have done to correct the misinformation because it was the subject of an internal affairs investigation into Frazier's handling of the call.

But Husch & Eppenberger found otherwise. One section of its summary, "Opportunities to Correct the Chronology," is devoted to listing various chances SPD officials had to fix the misperception, beginning with former public information officer Sergeant Kevin Keen. Within days of the first erroneous report, Keen was told by internal affairs officers that the version of events he had relayed to a daily newspaper reporter was wrong. "Since that conversation with the [daily] newspaper was a summary, Sgt. Keen could have re-summarized the report with all pertinent information after the first article ran," according to the report.

Later, SPD's investigations division could have released the true sequence "without compromising any IA matter." Such a disclosure also "likely would not have presented a problem with respect to the criminal investigation," according to the report.

Finally, internal affairs "could have (and probably should have) told Frazier during her IA interview process," according to the report.

These multiple failures to take action paint a portrait of a department full of buck-passers, the report says in a section called "Culture of Deniability."

"Every single officer we spoke to, including Chief Harris, passed the buck to someone else with respect to the Department's failure to correct the misinformation in the press regarding Officer Frazier," the report says. "The officers, detectives, sergeants, and lieutenants who knew the correct chronology either did not tell anyone with authority to do something with the information, or they simply told their supervisor and did nothing further. The Chief and Workman passed the responsibility to one another. As long as someone else made (or failed to make) the decision, the officers were willing to ignore the problem (or at least put it on the shelf)."