Thursday, July 19, 2001

Feds talk to police review members




By Robert Anglen and Dan Horn
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Members of Cincinnati's civilian police oversight board told federal investigators Wednesday about their frustrations with city officials and the impact it has had on reviewing police misconduct cases.

        That was one of several issues investigators raised with the Citizens Police Review Panel, whose members are among the first to talk publicly about their interviews with the Department of Justice.

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        Federal investigators, who launched a probe of the city's police division after the April riots, also asked about the history of the panel, the questions it has raised on two police shootings, and its relationship with the police department.

        Panel members said the two-hour interviews were casual and open-ended with members doing most of the talking and investigators listening and taking notes.

        “We talked about creating a dialogue,” said panel member Nancy Minson, adding that her meeting also involved a retired Chicago police officer now working as a consultant. “He pointed out to us how little interchange there really is between us and the rank-and-file police officers.”

        The meetings came after a bitter dispute with city officials over whether panel members could talk to federal investigators without city lawyers present.

        “The (Justice Department's) position was city lawyers didn't have the right to be there,” panel member Paul DeMarco said.

        Panel members instead were given a choice; and on Wednesday two panel members chose to meet with city lawyers sitting in on the discussion and two without.

        “Nobody told me what to say. Nobody tried to brief me on anything,” said panel member Steven Tutt, who had no objection to city lawyers. “If that had happened, it would be a different story.”

        He and Ms. Minson said city lawyers sat quietly during the interviews and raised no objections.

        Mr. Tutt and Ms. Minson agreed that the city has blocked their efforts to review police misconduct cases. They cited various instances, including recent revelation that police officials have not turned over hundreds of citizen complaints.

        But they disagreed with the public battle waged by panel Chairman Keith Borders and Mr. DeMarco over city lawyers.

        Mr. Tutt said the complaint system is broken. But he said it could be an effective tool and police officials had good intentions when they enacted the system.

        The system allows supervisors to investigate discourtesy complaints against officers without any review.

        Mr. DeMarco and Mr. Borders have said the police division was intentionally trying to minimize the number of complaints against officers.

        They also said the city officials insisted on having lawyers present as a way to exert influence over the panel.

        “As long as there is an effort, in any fashion, to interfere with what a citizen's body says or does, this city is not going to move forward toward a solution,” Mr. Borders said.

        Both Mr. Borders and Mr. DeMarco also said they wanted the meetings to be open to the public.

        Department of Justice senior trial attorney James Eichner said Wednesday that was not acceptable.

        He said any public statement would have to come from his supervisors in Washington.

        City Manager John Shirey said meetings with the citizens panel are no different than the meetings Justice Department investigators already have had with other city officials.

        Meetings were private at the request of the Justice Department, and all the meetings took place in the presence of the city's lawyers, he said.

        The city's outside lawyer, William “Billy” Martin, said the topics discussed in the meetings will become public when the investigation is over.

       



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