Wichita says 26 police employees have credibility-disclosure issues

08/21/2014 11:39 AM

08/21/2014 8:16 PM

The city of Wichita on Thursday released information following a request for the list of police personnel who have witness-credibility issues.

A breakdown of the affected officers listed by the city totals 26 employees. They are on a so-called Brady/Giglio list, named after various court cases finding that prosecutors have to disclose to defense attorneys any information that would challenge credibility of the state’s witnesses, who often include law-enforcement personnel.

The response, coming after a request by The Eagle based on the state’s open records law, said that those personnel who have convictions or dishonesty violations that must be disclosed to defense attorneys involve 15 field services personnel, six support service personnel and five investigations staffers. That is 26 police employees in all, out of a workforce of more than 800.

The 26 are commissioned and non-commissioned employees. Commissioned officers have authority to make an arrest and carry a gun.

They are on the list because they have in their histories 10 misdemeanor convictions, two felony convictions, seven instances of giving false information or departing from the truth and seven false reports, the city said in its letter, signed by Deputy City Attorney Jay Hinkel. At a Thursday afternoon news conference, police Deputy Chief John Speer said the two felony convictions involved employees who are not commissioned police officers and occurred before they were hired.

Speer said the information released Thursday reflects current staffing.

Paul Zamorano, president of the police union, the Fraternal Order of Police, Wichita Lodge 5, said the union represents 13 of the 26 employees. He gave this breakdown of their ranks: Nine are officers, three are detectives and one is a sergeant. Neither of the two people with felony convictions are represented by the union, he said.

Zamorano said he wanted the public to know that the union members on the list are there for relatively minor crimes that occurred years before and that five stemmed from internal investigations. He said the crimes occurred when the members were juveniles or before they were hired. And the city knew about their minor crimes when they were hired, he said.

He gave these examples of union members on the list:

  • A current officer who, when he was 19 and before he was hired, shoplifted something worth less than $20 from a grocery store. He completed a diversion program that led to the charge being dismissed and expunged from his record.
  • A current sergeant who went through an internal investigation over off-duty employment, in which there was no “sustained” finding of dishonesty. Still, “they put him on the list,” Zamorano said.
  • A current officer who, when he was 17, was put on juvenile probation for misdemeanor theft and criminal damage to property. He took pennies from a vehicle ashtray.
  • A current officer who, when he was 16 in 1988, was convicted of taking beer. The conviction was recently expunged.
  • A current detective who, as a juvenile in 1980, was charged with shoplifting for stealing a pen light from a convenience store.

Sedgwick County District Attorney Marc Bennett hosted the news conference Thursday and sat at a table with Speer and Sheriff Jeff Easter. The chief prosecutor said he wanted to address Brady/Giglio issues that have arisen this week in media reports.

Bennett said their main message was that the public should feel confident that authorities maintain integrity in prosecuting cases. He said that law enforcement and prosecutors have long followed Brady/Giglio procedures for making sure that potential witnesses are properly vetted.

Easter said the Sheriff’s Office has eight current employees with Brady/Giglio issues. Some of them work as detention officers and would have little chance of being called as witnesses, he said.

Easter said his office assigned the affected employees to positions where they would have limited exposure to making cases or arrests. Some, for example, work in the transportation division.

Bennett said both the Police Department and the Sheriff’s Office have done everything they can to keep Brady/Giglio employees out of positions where they would be more apt to witness a crime.

Bennett, referring to the employees’ crimes or violations, said, “A lot of these things happened long ago.”

Having a Brady/Giglio designation doesn’t mean someone can’t testify, Bennett said. It means the person’s history has to be disclosed.

Under current Police Department and sheriff’s policy, Bennett said, his understanding is that an employee committing a new crime couldn’t remain with an agency. “They’d be gone.”

Easter said there was a time when law enforcement agencies would hire an officer if they had a fairly minor conviction like shoplifting when they were a teen.

“We no longer hire people like that,” he said.

Speer said the Police Department in the past two years has stopped accepting job applications from anyone with convictions involving dishonesty, such as shoplifting or theft.

City response

The letter released by the city earlier Thursday gave a summary of the employees with Brady/Giglio issues but didn’t identify them by name or rank.

In the letter, Hinkel, the deputy city attorney, said the city has denied “blanket requests for the ‘Giglio list’ and ‘Giglio material of officers.’ The city does not maintain a list of Giglio officers.”

The city contends that the law prohibits it from releasing “personnel history of individual officers, or information from which the identity of individual officers could be ascertained,” Hinkel wrote.

He described the disclosure process this way:

The Police Department discloses an officer’s history to the district attorney, “at the request of the prosecuting agency,” Hinkel said in bold face. The DA then notifies the defense attorney, “who, if desires, requests the appropriate documentation from the police department.” A judge ultimately decides whether the officer’s previous conduct must be disclosed, Hinkel wrote.

“The City therefore cannot, with any reasonable degree of certainty, comply with a request for employees, or a number of employees, whose past conduct would be subject to disclosure,” he wrote. Hinkel said the list continually changes, as officers come under investigation or as their ranks change.

Along with the letter released Thursday, the city also provided a copy of a settlement agreement between it and the police union, signed by attorneys on both sides on May 27.

The settlement reveals the names of 14 police officers involved in a grievance filed by the FOP over the Police Department’s Policy 905, known as the Giglio Policy.

The settlement says that one officer will be returned to his assignment with the Exploited and Missing Child Unit. It said the 13 other officers would remain in their current positions.

The agreement also said the city would pay $27,952 to the FOP on behalf of the officers involved in the grievance, as partial compensation for lost pay or overtime, including lost pay as field training officers.

Reach Tim Potter at 316-268-6684 or tpotter@wichitaeagle.com.

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