One day after Lawrence city officials confirmed that two police officers were suspended related to an investigation into the dismissal of traffic tickets in exchange for Kansas University basketball tickets, the city’s attorney said it would notify appropriate parties in the judicial system about the identity of the individuals involved.
“The city complies with its obligation to report information to the parties that are entitled to the information,” city attorney Toni Wheeler said Friday. “The public should have confidence in our compliance with those obligations.”
City officials have not publicly released the names of the two officers or whether they are suspended with or without pay, saying it is a personnel matter. The officers were suspended following an investigation by the FBI in which no criminal charges were filed, but Police Chief Tarik Khatib said there was an internal investigation because it appeared the city’s gratuity policy had been violated.
City Manager David Corliss said the person whose speeding tickets were fixed is serving time in federal prison related to a broader KU ticket scandal from 2005 to 2010 after four Kansas Athletics Inc. employees and one department consultant pleaded guilty in the $2 million cash-for-tickets scam.
A Lawrence defense attorney said Friday that he was advising his clients not to enter a plea in pending cases in which a Lawrence police officer is a witness until the officers are identified.
“The fact that these officers engaged in dishonest conduct should be disclosed to the court because the court ultimately will have to determine the amount of credibility given to these officers’ testimony,” defense attorney Branden Bell said. “And the fact that these officers abandoned their duty to the public for their own personal gain is something that the court should be made aware of.”
Bell said he has sent a letter to Douglas County District Attorney Charles Branson arguing that the officers’ identities should be disclosed. Bell said he planned to send the same letter to Jerry Little, the supervising prosecutor in Lawrence Municipal Court. Otherwise he planned to file court motions in his pending cases making a similar argument.
“The state has to turn over evidence of dishonesty of its witnesses to a defendant,” Bell said.
Branson, whose office prosecutes all felony cases in the city, said Friday that Bell’s request was premature. Branson said the police department would provide formal notification about the recent investigation to his office.
“I expect that to be coming soon,” Branson said. “At that time we will go through our process of trying to identify what, if any, cases those officers were on and determine what notification needs to take place.”
He said generally if officers are no longer employed with the department because of some type of investigation into their conduct, they become unavailable as a witness. Then prosecutors must examine all cases filed and likely dismiss ones in which the officer’s testimony would be most crucial.
Also, prosecutors would be required to notify the defense about issues with an officer if they proceed with a case.
“We have an ongoing obligation to turn over anything that would be exculpatory in any case,” Branson said.
Mary Kreiner Ramirez, a Washburn University law professor, said typically when police officers testify in a case, jurors tend to give them a lot of credibility because of their position.
“But if you found out that they were willing to not pursue their crime-fighting responsibility for the benefit of tickets, which is essentially accepting bribes, then that might change your opinion of the person and go to the weight of what they’re saying,” said Ramirez, a former federal prosecutor.
Wheeler said prosecutors have a duty under U.S. Supreme Court precedent to disclose to defendants certain evidence, including any potential impeachment evidence of the prosecution’s witnesses. She said the police department would provide prosecutors with the names of any officers who might fall under that “at the appropriate time, in the appropriate manner.”
“The city complies with and will continue to abide by all state and federal discovery and disclosure requirements,” she said.
While acknowledging the fixed speeding tickets Thursday, city officials did leave several questions unanswered. Both Khatib and Corliss confirmed “several” members of the department were involved in the dismissal of the tickets, although they contended one individual orchestrated the matter. They did not provide details about the number of traffic tickets dismissed and said they were uncertain how long the ticket-fixing activity occurred other than over a number of years.
Khatib, who was promoted to police chief in February 2011, received an anonymous letter in May 2011 about the allegations, and Corliss later referred the matter to federal authorities for an investigation. Corliss also did not provide the name of the now imprisoned individual who provided the tickets in exchanged for the dismissed speeding tickets.
Mayor Aron Cromwell said one of the suspended officers orchestrated the dismissal of the tickets, while the other had knowledge of the activity and did not step forward. Cromwell said while it was Khatib’s decision, it was likely the officer leading the activity will be removed from the department.