Missing Cincinnati police records prompt call for outside investigation

Missing Cincinnati police records prompt call for outside investigation
Photo: FOX19 NOW/file

CINCINNATI, OH (FOX19) - Some key Cincinnati police records related to an overtime audit that found alleged “illegal" abuse are missing, prompting a high-ranking official to call for an outside investigation, city records show.

The captain who led the audit, Jeff Butler, wrote in a memo to Acting City Manager Patrick Duhaney that his supporting audit documents “could not be located” by police officials for at least the past four months.

This comes amid the city’s annual state financial audit, one that is taking a close look at police overtime spending of taxpayer dollars.

Hamilton County Prosecutor Joe Deters asked State Auditor Dave Yost for a review after Butler, alleged in a federal lawsuit officers were scamming the system for more pay to the extent of “felony theft” and Police Chief Eliot Isaac was turning a blind eye.

The records, stored in a banker’s box, were left clearly marked and secured at the police department’s Inspections Section before Butler was transferred to another area of the police department earlier this year, his memo states.

One of the assistant city solicitors also had a portion of the records, Butler wrote.

Yet when an investigator with the auditor’s office met with him Wednesday and specifically asked the police department ahead of time for Butler to attend with his records backing up his audit calculations, those records remained MIA, according to his memo.

“I respectfully request an independent external Administrative and or Criminal Investigation related to securing and maintenance of Public Records as mandated by the Ohio Revised Code,” Butler’s memo states.

“I believe an external investigation is necessary due in part to the conflict of interests presented in this document to ensure the investigation integrity, the disclosure of additional information from witnesses employed by the City of Cincinnati and to protect and preserve the rights of individuals involved in administrative or legal proceeding.”

The city is under subpoena to retain all records related to the internal police audit while Yost’s office reviews overtime spending, emails show.

“We obviously need to comply with this and should fully cooperate with any review of the audit coordinated by (Deters) office. It is important that the City be transparent,” Mayor John Cranley wrote in an email to City Solicitor Paula Boggs Muething, Duhaney and other city administrators back on April 26 when Muething forwarded them information about the subpoena.

Butler hand-delivered his memo to Duhaney’s office Wednesday after being summoned to a closed-door meeting with the police department’s second highest-ranking official, Assistant Police Chief Teresa Theetge, and Kevin Baute, an investigator with the State Auditor’s Office, according his memo.

Cincinnati Police Captain Jeff Butler (Photo: FOX19 NOW/file)
Cincinnati Police Captain Jeff Butler (Photo: FOX19 NOW/file)

The purpose of the meeting was to discuss calculations of the audit, which Butler and former Assistant Police Chief Dave Bailey submitted to the police chief in February, Butler wrote.

Prior to the meeting, Butler wrote in his memo, he received an email Oct. 11 from Theetge indicating in a cut-and-paste from a separate email that the investigator was requesting supporting documentation for the audit.

"I will have my calculations and what I came up with at that time as well to compare,” reads the cut-and-paste portion of the email Theetge sent Butler from the auditor’s investigator, according to Butler’s memo.

“In preparation for the meeting,” the investigator wrote, “I will probably want to take a copy of (Butler’s) calculations with me after the meeting to review and for support. If that can be requested and ready for the meeting that would be helpful.”

Butler responded to Theetge’s email requesting permission to contact the investigator for clarification on the agenda, according to his memo.

Theetge replied via email that she would clarify the request, Butler wrote in his memo, which quoted her as emailing back to him: “Just FYI. It is my understanding that he simply wants to know how you came up with the dollar amounts that were listed in the audit.”

Butler wrote that he responded via email: “There is a significant amount of documentation including notes, electronic files, and paper copies, plus files by fiscal and ITMS that are in the bankers box. If I know specifically what he needs or have an agenda that will help. Otherwise we will spend a lot of time just searching for specific."

Butler declined comment Thursday. He referred questions to his attorney who did not return a call for comment.

FOX19 NOW has reached out to city and police department for comment. We will update this story once we hear back.

The police chief has disputed the audit’s findings, calling it a draft that was leaked to the media, not a final version. Read the police department’s updated version of the audit here.

“The tone in which this audit was written is unusual for a fact gathering document,” Isaac wrote in a city memo in March. “There are several significant factors regarding the audit that are of serious concern requiring my further review before public release.”

For example, he wrote, the city’s finance manager was never consulted or given the opportunity to verify the figures in this audit.

The audit was leaked to the media in early March, setting off a tumultuous chain of events that included the chief and then-City Manager Harry Black ousting Bailey, a popular police veteran considered “a cop’s cop" with decades of experience in every section of the department.

Former Cincinnati Assistant Police Chief Dave Bailey (Photo: FOX19 NOW/file)
Former Cincinnati Assistant Police Chief Dave Bailey (Photo: FOX19 NOW/file)

Black was so upset the audit was leaked, he called for federal prosecutors to root out a “rogue element” he claimed was “corrupt” within the Cincinnati Police Department and undermining the police chief’s authority.

Some police employees are disrupting operations, according to Black, because they don’t want to work for an African-American chief and city manager.

The day after Bailey was forced out, Cranley asked Black to resign.

Black refused, and an intense public feud erupted at City Hall.

A month later, Black resigned seconds before a special City Council meeting was called to order to fire him. By then, he’d lost majority council support in the wake of the Kyle Plush tragedy.

A spokeswoman for Deters' office had no immediate comment Thursday.

“We are waiting for the report from the State Auditor and will not have any comment at this time," said Julie Wilson.

Yost’s office also declined to discuss the audit and related records.

In addition to looking at police overtime, state auditors also have been examining how Cincinnati spent taxpayer money for its 911 emergency center.

Butler’s suit also claims he was passed over for promotion to assistant police chief because he challenged Black and Assistant City Manager Sheila-Hill Christian’s “blatant misuse of state tax funds” for emergency services for the city' s general budgetary purposes, and “the inappropriate expenditure of federal Homeland Security grant funds.”

“Because the information you seek is part of an ongoing audit, we cannot comment at this time," said Benjamin Marrison, a spokesman for the State Auditor’s Office. “The 911 review and police overtime review are part of the ongoing financial audit and will be released when completed later this year. No estimated date of completion is available as the work is ongoing.”

A few months ago, when we asked for a status of the audit and specifically asked if auditors were being given access to all necessary police documents, Marrision responded:

“There have been no issues with access to information, and everyone has been cooperative with all of our requests to date and there has not been a need for unannounced meetings.”

Reached for comment, some council members like P.G. Sittenfeld said they were waiting for an update on the situation from the acting city manager and law department before commenting.

Vice Mayor Chris Smitherman said he wants to see full transparency out of of the police department, just as he expects out of all other city agencies.

“Transparency is at the heart of a good government. Therefore, the people’s business must be treated with full openness and transparency. This is the standard.”

But he said he didn’t think the point was reached yet for an outside investigation.

“I think we need to give our police department an opportunity to produce the records before we bring in any outside investigators,” Smitherman said.

He plans to bring it up at the next Law and Public Safety Committee meeting, he added.

Councilman Wendell Young also wants to hold off on an outside probe.

“Captain Butler’s allegations are disturbing,” said Young, a retired veteran Cincinnati police officer. “However, there is currently a state audit/review taking place. I think we should allow that to take place and review that report. Then hear the police chief’s response.”

Councilman David Mann said: “It sounds serious but obviously needs to be investigated."

He declined to say more, citing the ongoing litigation with Butler.

Sgt. Dan Hils, president of the union that represents Cincinnati, said he he didn’t want to give an opinion on the issue one way or another.

But, in general, he said the rank and file he represents are demanded to show “the ultimate transparency” by being required to record all their interactions with citizens.

That same transparency, he noted, also should be expected out of the police administration.

“I would think if there’s any questions about the transparency and/or wrongdoing that the only answer to that would be openness to an investigation," he said.

The missing records creates many legal headaches for city and police officials, according to Butler’s memo.

“The lack of availability of the documents and inspections notes is a significant issue and places extensive liability on the Police Department and the City of Cincinnati,” he wrote.

"These include but are not limited to:

  • “Adherence to Ohio Public Records Law”
  • “Compliance with a subpoena issued to the City of Cincinnati....”
  • “Response and defense of the EEOC complaint filed by Captain (Bridget) Bardua for the City, Ltc. Neudigate, Ltc. Bailey and myself"
  • “Plaintiff and defense respond in the matter of Butler v. City of Cincinnati Ohio...”

Police overtime has long been a problem at Cincinnati Police Department.

A sample analysis taken during a 2007 city audit on it found nearly two-thirds of the forms authorizing overtime use were not being filled out in full compliance with police procedure, city records show.

A more recent state audit, the city’s latest one - from 2016 - found noncompliance in 354 instances related to forms that police are required to fill out when they work overtime.

  • 160 of 354 (45 percent) were not pre-approved
  • 1 out of 354 were not received
  • 6 out of 354 (2 percent) were not complete

“Failure to adhere to the policies implemented could lead to the abuse of overtime, overtime pay being denied and errors in overtime payments,” auditors wrote. “We recommend the City implement controls to ensure that employees are adhering to the overtime approval policies.”

Cincinnati police released a report in March 2016 that found more than half of all overtime requests weren't approved or verified correctly between July 2014 and September 2015.

At that time, police leaders said they planned to overhaul the way it reports overtime to make improvements.

That included the start of regular overtime audits at all five police districts and list the top overtime earners by rank - the exact audit Butler and his staff did that has caused so much controversy.

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