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Sarasota Thursday, Feb. 9, 2012 5 years ago

Police complaints committee feud grows

by: Kurt Schultheis Senior Editor

Members of the city’s Police Complaints Committee have refused to accept a suggestion that briefer reports cannot be produced for their review, and they are questioning whether investigations into police misconduct are wasting taxpayer dollars
The discussion has resulted in a committee member’s scheduling a meeting with the city attorney this week to discuss state statutes regarding the department’s internal affairs investigations.

During the Jan. 17 committee meeting, board member Frank Brenner and Lt. John LeBlanc’s ongoing disagreement over the length of reports escalated after Brenner distributed a memorandum he said was proof the department was not following proper investigative procedures.

Brenner has said he dislikes reading about investigations of alleged officer misconduct that include countless depositions from witnesses who he believes shouldn’t be deposed. Brenner says the department needlessly takes witness statements to prove facts that already have been admitted in cases or that are not in dispute.

LeBlanc told Brenner in December that the Police Department was not creating excessive paperwork in cases. He suggested Brenner discuss the department’s procedures with the city attorney.

Instead of following LeBlanc’s advice, Brenner took time during the Jan. 17 meeting to distribute to his fellow committee members a five-page report titled, “Let Reason Prevail.” The document included what he said was a reproduction of the statute including the Police Officers Bill of Rights. He added that he believed the Sarasota Police Department was misinterpreting part of the statute.

“In this alleged reproduction of the statute, it states that all identifiable witnesses should be interviewed prior to the investigation of an accused officer,” Brenner said. “But an accused (person) in any truth-seeking process is entitled only to disclosure of what evidence will be used against him.”

Brenner asked his fellow board members to imagine a scenario in which 25 officers were deposed to get statements verifying that a police chief had given an order that one officer had disobeyed.

“I submit (that) resources can be used to uncover disputed facts and not facts that aren’t disputed,” Brenner said. “The longer an improper procedure goes on, it becomes more egregious.”

Brenner proposed that if the Police Department modified its procedure, the committee members would benefit as well, by receiving shorter reports. Further, he said taxpayer dollars wouldn’t be wasted to fund unnecessary depositions.

“If you stop this, you won’t be reading reports of 25 pages and investigators interviewing six different people to establish one fact that’s not in dispute,” Brenner said.

LeBlanc, who heads up the police department’s Internal Affairs and Complaints Unit, disagreed with Brenner.

“I contend there is no error,” said LeBlanc, who added that every police department performs investigations the same way the Sarasota department does.

Brenner will meet with an assistant city attorney Feb. 10, to determine whether the department’s procedures should be changed.

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