LINCOLN, Neb. — Nebraska State Patrol leaders tried to influence the outcome of at least four internal reviews, failed to disclose as many as a dozen alleged cases of trooper misconduct and didn’t properly investigate sexual harassment accusations, according to a report released Thursday.
The report adds new detail to a series of scandals that led Gov. Pete Ricketts to fire the patrol’s former superintendent, Col. Brad Rice, on June 30. Ricketts announced in June that his office had turned its findings over to the FBI and U.S. attorney’s office.
“I don’t think the colonel displayed the leadership he ought to have,” Ricketts said at a late-afternoon press conference. “That’s why I asked him to leave the state patrol.”
The report says Rice downplayed the significance of a trooper who struck an intoxicated man in the head with a rifle butt because the man wasn’t following commands to get on the ground. Rice initially told the patrol’s investigators not to look into allegations that the trooper lied about the incident, according to the report.
In another incident, six officers were suspended following a high-speed chase that killed a South Dakota man in northwest Nebraska’s Sheridan County. According to the report, the patrol delayed an internal investigation for 10 days because some troopers disputed that an investigation was needed.
Rice also allegedly tried to influence the outcome by suggesting in front of investigators that the fleeing driver was at fault, Ricketts said. When shown dashboard video of the chase, Rice remarked, “Well, it looks like the vehicle swerved into the trooper to me,” according to the report.
In a third case, the report said Rice spoke directly to a senior troopers’ union official who was accused of lying as well as the union’s president to try to resolve the issue informally. Rice then took the “unprecedented step” of assigning an investigator who was a witness in the case, according to the report.
Finally, the report says Rice halted an investigation into a trooper who allegedly lied about bumping a vehicle off the road during a chase without getting permission. The trooper retired before the investigation was completed.
Reached Thursday on his cell phone, Rice declined to comment.
The report also faults Rice for failing to properly to investigate a female recruit’s sexual harassment allegations against a male doctor who examined her as a condition of employment.
The female trooper filed a federal lawsuit Tuesday alleging that she and others were forced to submit to invasive, medically unnecessary pelvic exams.
The women were required to undress from the waist down for a vaginal and rectal inspection, ostensibly to check for hernias, but male recruits generally did not face such an exam. The woman who sued was examined in September 2014 and brought it to Rice’s attention in February 2017, according to the report.
“Upon learning of the allegation in February, Col. Rice had an opportunity to exhibit leadership by correcting the agency’s inaction — yet he failed to do so,” the report said.
A senior lawmaker who has been critical of Rice said Thursday’s report shows the need for a major leadership overhaul.
“My biggest concern right now is that the department is broken, the culture needs to be changed, and the only way that’s going to happen is if some people in leadership positions get changed out,” said Sen. Bob Krist of Omaha.
Krist said Ricketts’ pick to replace Rice will likely face additional scrutiny from lawmakers who will decide whether to confirm the appointment in next year’s session.
“That confirmation process may be difficult,” Krist said.
In the interim, Ricketts has appointed State Patrol Major Russ Stanczyk to head the agency.
The report contends that the patrol failed to properly disclose as many as a dozen cases where troopers were accused of misconduct.
Some were allowed to quietly retire under threat of being fired, and because their cases weren’t referred to Nebraska Crime Commission for review, many of them would be eligible to work in other law enforcement agencies, said Jason Jackson, the state’s chief human resources officer, who investigated the patrol at Ricketts’ request.
“There’s an obligation to bring those findings (of misconduct) to light,” Jackson said.
The report found Rice had an “unduly familiar” relationship with the president of a state law enforcement union, hearing complaints directly from him when they should have been filed with the state’s Division of Employee Relations.
It also blamed the patrol for failing to control its overtime spending, resulting in nearly $3 million in expenses, and Rice for allowing troopers to work holidays even if they weren’t needed.
Rice was controversial even before Ricketts appointed him in 2015. In 2007, a female trooper successfully sued Rice and the patrol for gender discrimination for his role on a selection panel that was accused of not promoting enough female troopers. He also was accused of proselytizing to subordinates when he served as a district commander. Rice denied proselytizing and said he was never found to have done so.
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