One officer involved in a Lawrence police traffic ticket-fixing investigation is no longer employed with the department, Police Chief Tarik Khatib said in a statement Friday morning.
City attorney Toni Wheeler confirmed Friday that Sgt. Matt Sarna is no longer an employee of the Lawrence Police Department, and also confirmed that Sarna had been the subject of a personnel investigation.
“The personnel investigation for Matt Sarna was completed,” she said.
But Wheeler stopped short of confirming Sarna was one of two police officers who had been placed on suspension by the department during the probe into the traffic ticket-fixing allegations.
According to payroll records obtained by the Journal-World through an open records request, Sarna was paid by the city on Feb. 17, the last payroll processed by the city. The records, however, indicated Sarna received pay for less than the standard 80 hours accumulated during a normal pay period. City officials have refused to comment on whether the two officers had been suspended with or without pay. The Journal-World requested payroll records for all 15 sergeants in the police department, and the records indicated all 15 received their pay during the last payroll period.
Wheeler said personnel records indicate Sarna resigned from the city effective Friday.
Wheeler declined further comment on the matter. Recent attempts to reach Sarna were not successful.
With the department since 1991, Sarna was a school resource officer for several years until 2008. After his promotion to sergeant he was a patrol shift supervisor and in October 2010 became the department’s public affairs sergeant and media spokesman.
In his written statement Friday morning, Khatib released more details — including that at least six traffic citations were fixed — about the investigation launched following a May 2011 complaint that officers were involved in fixing speeding tickets in exchange for Kansas University basketball tickets. The city has said the individual whose speeding tickets were dismissed was a former Kansas Athletic Inc. employee now serving time in federal prison for his role in the broader KU ticket scandal.
A federal judge last year sentenced four former Kansas Athletics Inc. employees — Ben Kirtland, Rodney Jones, Charlette Blubaugh and Kassie Liebsch — and one department consultant, Tom Blubaugh, to federal prison after their guilty pleas in the cash-for-tickets scam from 2005 to 2010 that rocked the university and cost it more than $2 million in football and basketball tickets.
Khatib said the investigation found one officer had a long-term friendship with the athletics employee.
“As part of this relationship, the commissioned employee received free, discounted or otherwise special access to certain athletic events over the several years. At some point in the relationship, the former KU Athletic Department employee requested assistance with traffic citations,” Khatib said. “The investigation found that over the course of nine years the commissioned employee assisted in the fixing of at least six citations that can so far be determined: one in 2000, one in 2003, one in 2004, one in 2005, one in 2008, and one in 2009.
“‘Fixing’ is defined as the voiding of an issued citation before it is transferred to Municipal Court, the request for dismissal from Municipal Court, or intervening before the citation is issued.”
That officer is no longer employed as a result of violation of the city’s gratuity and solicitation policies, the chief said Friday.
Khatib said a second officer was asked two or three times by the first officer for assistance in fixing of a ticket and “may have been the beneficiary of KU tickets through the first employee.” The other tickets were fixed by asking officers who issued or were about to issue a ticket to void it or not issue it, but those officers did not “knowingly” receive anything in return.
Federal Bureau of Investigation agents, at the city’s request, investigated the case and decided against federal charges of bribery or other offenses.
Khatib said the second officer involved remains suspended pending conclusion of his personnel investigation and no other suspensions are anticipated.
The city did not release the names of the two officers in the statement Friday, but it has provided the names to District Attorney Charles Branson so prosecutors can determine if the internal investigation would affect any criminal cases in which the officers served as witnesses.
“The United States Attorney’s Office complimented the Lawrence Police Department for its thorough review of the matter and understood the city’s desire to have the complaint immediately reviewed by independent federal authorities,” Khatib said. “The city manager and I are committed to ensuring that members of the Lawrence Police Department perform their duties in accordance with the high ethical standards of this community.”
He said City Manager David Corliss also directed a full review of municipal citation dismissal procedures “to ensure greater transparency and accountability.”