Tuesday, May 15, 2001

Justice Dept. to begin police review


City might hire outside legal advice

By Dan Horn and Jane Prendergast
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        A team of lawyers from the U.S. Justice Department will arrive in Cincinnati next week to begin an exhaustive review of the city's police division.

        At least six lawyers from the Justice Department's special litigation section are expected for a series of “introductory interviews” with city and police officials, city attorneys said Monday.

        Although city officials have promised to cooperate with the Justice Department, some said Monday they will consider hiring outside lawyers to advise the city during the investigation.

        Councilman John Cranley, chairman of council's law committee, said city solicitors have told him that outside lawyers might be needed because the solicitors' staff has no experience with investigations of this kind.

        Good legal advice is crucial, Mr. Cranley said, because the justice investigation could lead to a federal civil rights lawsuit against the city.

        “I think it's prudent to be looking after the best interests of the city,” Mr. Cranley said. “These (investigations) are tricky things that will potentially have serious ramifications.”

        Under federal law, the Justice Department is authorized to file a civil rights lawsuit against the city if it finds a “pattern and practice” of discrimination or misconduct by police.

        Most investigations of this kind end with no federal action, but some lead to law suits or court-ordered sanctions against police. At least five cities, including Los Angeles and Pittsburgh, have faced legal action after Justice department investigations.

        Attorney General John Ashcroft has said he wants to work with the city to resolve any problems his investigators find. But city officials don't want to take any chances.

        “It would appear the purpose of the Justice Department investigation is to assist the city, and we hope that's the case,” said Pete Heile, a deputy city solicitor. “But as a city, we're not making any assumptions.”

        He said outside counsel could help guide the city through the investigation and advise officials on how to proceed if the Justice Department decides to take legal action.

        Outside lawyers often are used in big cases, Mr. Heile said, and would likely work alongside city solicitors if they were hired in this case. He would not comment when asked if city officials already have discussed hiring a particular lawyer or firm.

        “If we do this, we would look for someone with some experience,” Mr. Heile said.

        A Justice spokesman refused to discuss the investigation Monday and would not say how many lawyers will be on the team sent to Cincinnati.

        But city officials confirmed Monday that one proposed member of the team is a former police chief from Charlotte, N.C. The former chief, Dennis Nowicki, would be an adviser to the Justice lawyers.

        Mr. Nowicki declined comment Monday, saying his involvement in the case has not been finalized. He retired as chief in Charlotte two years ago and is a consultant to the National Center for Children Exposed to Violence.

        He also runs the Center for Public Service and Leadership at Charlotte's Pfeiffer University. He has provided training to federal, state and local agencies, including the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division.

        The Justice team will begin to arrive May 23 for interviews with several city officials, said assistant city solicitor Richard Ganulin.

        He said up to six Justice Department lawyers will be in Cincinnati by May 25.

       



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