Sunday, August 29, 2010
More Damaging Details Emerge On Straub And Ciesieslski
A new report by Fox59 News' Russ McQuaid on the initial reaction of Public Safety Director Frank Straub and IMPD Chief Paul Ciesielski to the fatal alcohol crash of Officer David Bisard that left one dead and two others seriously injured is very damaging to the two men and has shaken Mayor Greg Ballard's confidence in his leadership team. While two other high ranking police officers in the department, Darryl Pierce and Ron Ricks, went to the scene of the accident, Straub and Ciesielski were huddled in Straub's office focused on damage control concerning Straub's reputation. Straub had come under fire for a reorganization plan within the department and for blabbing his mouth about details of the investigation into a shooting at a birthday party that left two dead and six people shot. The FOP had just voted down a new contract based largely on disenchantment with Straub's leadership. Chief Ciesielski acknowledged when he emerged from Straub's office that morning he hadn't even bothered to watch noon TV news reports on the Bisard crash. Instead, he relied on briefings he received from Pierce and Hicks. He then scheduled an afternoon press conference to defend Straub and requested Pierce and Hicks via text messages to join him for the conference, although both men declined to say anything at the press conference in Straub's defense.
What is particularly disturbing is McQuaid's report that Ciesielski summoned Pierce and Hicks to come back to IMPD headquarters from the crash scene for a 1:00 meeting to discuss the image problem for Straub and growing concerns there was a rift between the Chief and Straub. Both Hicks and Pierce claim they told Ciesielski about the seriousness of the Bisard crash, but he asked for no additional information about it. Instead, he remained focused on how he could help out Straub with his image.
McQuaid caught up with Mayor Ballard to question him about Director Straub's and Chief Ciesielski's activities that day and he appeared surprised by what he heard from McQuaid. "If true, it's disturbing, obviously," said the mayor. "That is something that is going to have to be looked into. The timing of that, if it is…is extremely disturbing to me. We're going to have to take a serious look at that." When pressed on whether the two men still had his support, Ballard answered, "Right now they do have my support." But he added, "We have to look at the facts as they evolve. We have to see what this is going to turn out to be."
McQuaid's report raises serious doubts about the reasons Straub and Ciesielski gave for demoting Pierce, Hicks and Commander John Conley, who was also at the Bisard crash scene. They were criticized by the two for failing to communicate the gravity of the situation to them about the Bisard crash and taking charge of the investigation of the crash, while the two admittedly were busy working on Straub's public image and preparing a press conference to defend Straub. "Members of my leadership team failed me," Ciesielski said at the announcement of the demotion. Lt. George Crooks was removed as head of the Fatal Alcohol Crash Team (FACT) even though he had been told not to go to the Bisard crash scene and had played no role in the crash investigation. McQuaid says that Straub later told at least three audiences he would reinstate Crooks and apologize to him personally, but he later denied the account and says he will not reinstate Crooks or apologize to him.
I've also learned of more damaging information about Straub's potential role in a confrontation that took place between Deputy Chief Wiliam Benjamin and Indiana State Police Office Wayne Billings. I'm told by a well-placed source that Billings came to Benjamin's office at IMPD headquarters dressed in blue jeans and a baggy shirt to confront him about text messages he claimed he had received from Benjamin concerning an adulterous affair he was allegedly having with a female clerk of court employee. The text messages purportedly asked Billings to come to Benjamin's office. During the brief encounter, Billings accused Benjamin of having an affair with the female clerk in question and claimed he had been disciplined by Ciesielski for the affair. I'm told Billings did not identify himself to Benjamin when he confronted him about the text messages, which Benjamin denied sending to Billings. After the heated exchange, Billings attempted to leave the office without identifying himself. When other officers stepped in to detain Billings, he reached for his sidearm, at which point another IMPD officer quickly disarmed him. The source tells me no IMPD officer drew a gun on Billings.
IMPD officers later discovered Billings had carried a digital recorder in his pocket and recorded the entire confrontation between him and Benjamin. Some IMPD officers believe Straub desired to get rid of Benjamin and was attempting to set him up. At least one elected official has indicated to police sources Straub told him he planned to get rid of Benjamin. Both the Indiana State Police and IMPD are investigating the incident. I'm told Straub has also asked the FBI to investigate the matter. Billings has been placed on administrative duty by ISP pending the outcome of the investigation.
These latest incidents only further raise doubts in the minds of IMPD's rank-and-file officers as to credibility and trust worthiness of the leadership at the top. It is becoming all the more apparent that others are being scape-goated for the mistakes and bad judgment made at the top. This latest news seems to have even raised concern on Ballard's part about the leadership of Straub and Ciesielski.
Straub's efforts to promote his own public image at the expense of IMPD is readily apparent in a feature story today in the Star about the problems at IMPD, "It's Gotten Out of Control", by Heather Gillers and John Touhy. Straub, naturally, is portrayed as the crusading outsider who is working overtime to clean up the mess at IMPD he inherited. Discussing the troubling number of problem officers in recent years, Straub says, "Whether the number is 27 or 40 or five, the chief and I are committed to thoroughly investigating all allegations of misconduct, excessive force or corruption." I wonder if that it includes his and the chief's dereliction of duty with respect to the Bisard investigation while they were focused on the more pressing issue of Straub's public image? I'm also disappointed in the lack of attention in this feature story on the OmniSource investigation, a massive public corruption case involving dozens of police officers that was covered up by the Ballard administration in order to protect a valued client of Barnes & Thornburg, the law firm that for all practical purposes calls all of the shots in the Ballard administration while making lots of money for the firm and its clients at our expense. The handling of that case proved to me that this administration puts protecting the interest of Ballard's political cronies ahead of the general public, which was being systematically victimized by metal thiefs for the benefit of scrap metal dealers. That major corruption scandal within IMPD was only briefly mentioned in the story and resulted in no firings within the department.
The Star story does give some more favorable coverage of a plan actually prepared by Straub but credited to Councilors Ben Hunter, a former IMPD officer, and CCC President Ryan Vaughn, who has used his position on the council to personally aid the clients of Barnes & Thornburg. The Star writes, "In cosultation with Straub, City-County Council members Ryan Vaughn and Ben Hunter unveiled a 10-point reform plan Wednesday that includes mandatory annual performance evaluations, a college degree requirement for promotion and some college for entry into the force." I actually think a number of the ideas they propose are very good; however, I fear that taxpayers will wind up paying college expense requirements incurred by police officers that will allow them to be promoted. I would also point out that both Vaughn and Hunter oppose reforms in police moonlighting policies that should have become abundantly obvious after the OmniSource scandal. The fact is that many police officers become conflicted by their dualing roles for the public and their private security service clients and taxpayers continue to foot the bill for police officers' use of taxpayer-owned property for the benefit of private security firms.