Federal authorities who investigated allegations that two suspended Lawrence police officers had a role in dismissing speeding tickets in exchange for Kansas University basketball tickets declined to pursue criminal charges.
And Lawrence Police Chief Tarik Khatib and City Manager David Corliss said the internal investigation involves a violation of the city’s gratuity policy.
Although city officials have not publicly released all the facts of the investigation, Laura Routh, a frequent police department critic, said the incident appeared to be more serious and referred to it as “graft and corruption.”
Mary Kreiner Ramirez, a Washburn University law professor, said it’s hard to tell without knowing specific facts about how the ticket fixing worked but there are likely many reasons why federal authorities decided not to pursue criminal charges of either bribery or gratuity, which is a lesser offense.
“Frankly I don’t know that it necessarily falls under one and not the other,” said Ramirez, a former federal prosecutor. “It depends on how the facts fall.”
Khatib and Corliss have confirmed that other officers were involved in the process of dismissing speeding tickets for an individual who had access to KU basketball tickets. The investigation has indicated those officers may have been asked by a single member of the police department to dismiss those tickets as a favor. It isn’t clear whether those other officers received KU basketball tickets in exchange for the dismissals. The city has declined to provide an estimate of the number of other officers involved or whether other suspensions could be forthcoming.
The individual who provided the basketball tickets was a person now in federal prison related to the broader KU ticket scandal in which four athletic department employees and one consultant stole about $2 million worth of basketball and football tickets from 2005 to 2010.
Ramirez said to prove a bribery charge against a public official, prosecutors must convince jurors there was a quid pro quo, such as an individual giving an officer basketball tickets in exchange for a later dismissal of the speeding ticket.
“It’s a bit more difficult because you’re talking about intending to influence a particular act in the future. You have to link them together particularly,” she said.
But it could get muddier if the facts show the tickets were given to an officer after the speeding citations were already dismissed. That case would likely fall under the federal gratuity statute because it would be harder to prove an officer even knew the basketball tickets would be coming.
“It’s a lower standard of proof. You don’t have to prove it actually influenced their decision,” Ramirez said. “With the bribery, you have to show it was intended to influence their decision.”
Sam Walker, an emeritus professor of criminal justice at the University of Nebraska at Omaha, said from seeing news coverage about the Lawrence ticket-fixing case so far it appeared to be more in line with bribery than gratuity.
“It’s an integrity issue,” Walker said. “Even though it’s only a speeding offense, and even though it’s only basketball tickets, you just can’t overlook a little thing because the next thing, it will be a big one.”
Khatib has said the ticket fixing does not involve dismissing “a ton” of speeding tickets, and it’s not “a widespread, systemic amount of officers.”
The city has not identified the two suspended officers, calling the matter a personnel issue.
“One of the best ways to address it is to seek to foster a culture that has consequences for inappropriate action,” Corliss said last week. “That’s what we’re doing. Even though there’s not been a crime committed, we are taking serious action in regards to this.”
City officials previously have said their investigation determined that one officer largely orchestrated the ticket fixing, while the other officer on suspension had knowledge of the activity and did not step forward. The city has not yet released a specific time frame for the ticket fixing or said how many speeding tickets were dismissed.
Khatib has provided the names of the two suspended officers to Douglas County District Attorney Charles Branson so that prosecutors could determine whether the alleged ethical violations of the two officers are pertinent to pending or past criminal cases.
Ramirez, the Washburn law professor, said federal prosecutors could have taken into account other factors when deciding not to pursue charges, including possible internal department consequences for the officers involved.