‘Several conflicts of interest’: CPD panel reverses captain’s reprimand in missing box investigation

‘Several conflicts of interest’: CPD panel reverses captain’s reprimand in missing box investigation
Key records that back up this controversial audit on Cincinnati police overtime vanished from the police department in 2018. (Source: FOX19 NOW/Jennifer Edwards Baker)

CINCINNATI (FOX19) - A Cincinnati Police Department internal investigation into the whereabouts of a box of missing interdepartmental audit records has concluded with it still MIA, according to records the city released to FOX19 NOW.

And now the integrity of the investigation - including the police chief’s role in it - has come under question and quickly resulted in discipline related to its outcome being tossed out, the records show.

“The panel believes that because of these conflicts identified, one could consider the investigation not fair or objective, which further leads to the veracity of the sustained finding," their July 25 decision states.

A veteran Cincinnati police official who asked for an outside probe into the missing box was reprimanded at the conclusion of the probe, but a panel of his peers reversed that reprimand in a unanimous decision because “the investigation posed several conflicts of interest," a peer review panel report states.

Captain Jeff Butler received the written reprimand for an administrative charge of “Failure of Good Behavior" on July 3 after the internal wrapped up May 30, a copy shows.

It was related to remarks he made about Police Chief Eliot Isaac during an internal investigation.

Butler declined to sign the reprimand, writing “REFUSED” on the document.

Then, he filed a challenge to appeal it to a panel of his peers.

The panel found “several conflicts of interest” in the internal investigation - a claim Butler made last year shortly after the probe was launched, police records show.

He even tried to warn CPD against conducting the investigation in-house to avoid just that from happening.

He twice asked for an outside investigation into the missing box, once in October to City Manager Patrick Duhaney and again in December, to Police Chief Eliot Isaac, according to records.

His requests were not granted, however, and the police internal investigation proceeded.

The review panel - comprised of CPD veterans who all were internal section commanders at one point: Paul Broxterman, Craig Gregoire and Doug Wiesman - identified the following conflicts of interest in it, police records show:

  • “A direct familial relationship between the evidence of the investigating and investigative body.” (Butler’s direct supervisor, Assistant Chief Teresa Theetge, who was involved in the city’s annual state audit and oversaw the section in CPD where the box was last seen, is the sister of the Russ Neville, the captain assigned to oversee the internal investigation. He has since been transferred to run the internal investigation section).
  • “Due to an active captain’s promotion list, the lead investigator was potentially in a position to benefit from a sustained finding of Captain Butler.” (Lt. Doug Snider is next on the promotional eligibility list for captain).
  • “While being implicated in the investigation, the Police Chief attended discussions related to this investigation prior to the conclusion of the investigation.”

While the group reversed the reprimand, the police administrative charge sticks. The peer review panel’s decision only relates to the discipline.

The reprimand was removed from Butler’s personnel file and police electronic records, according to a July 29 memo from Theetge to the commander of the to the city’s human resources department director and the commander of internal section.

Butler’s lawyer, Brian Gillan, said he has asked the city to also “remove the tainted” internal investigation report, not just the reprimand the peer review panel reversed.

“The discipline Chief Isaac attempted to impose on Captain Butler was driven by the same retaliatory motives the Chief has displayed repeatedly,” he said. "We are gratified that the Peer Review Panel saw this for what it was, and unanimously reversed the Chief’s attempted discipline. The Panel’s decision is a scathing indictment of the investigation and the Chief’s role in it.”

On July 1, a police spokesman, Sgt. Eric Franz, immediately referred us to Casey Weldon, a city spokesman in the city manager’s office, when we sent him an email inquiring about this case and requesting copies of the internal report and all related records.

Weldon emailed the documents to us late Friday, and we left three messages for comment with city and police representatives on Saturday.

Weldon declined comment Saturday. We did not receive a response from a police spokesman.

Cincinnati Police Captain Jeff Butler (Photo: Facebook)
Cincinnati Police Captain Jeff Butler (Photo: Facebook)

The records released to us included the final internal investigation report, drafts, Butler’s reprimand, the peer review panel’s report and audio clips of all interviewed as part of the five-month probe.

LISTEN: Audio of two interviews of Captain Jeff Butler with internal investigators and Police Chief Eliot Isaac with Assistant City Manager John Juech.

Capt. Butler first interview
Interview with Capt. Jeffrey Butler
Interview with Cincinnati Police Chief Eliot Isaac

The last believed location of the box was in Butler’s possession in the Inspections Section captains office, the internal investigation concluded.

“Based on the IIS interviews and investigation, IIS is UNABLE TO DETERMINE the current location of a master box,” reads the final report of the internal investigation.

Butler questions that decision, as he has several ones within CPD and at City Hall in recent years.

He has a federal lawsuit pending against the city of Cincinnati, the police chief, Mayor John Cranley, former City Manager Harry Black, former assistant city manager Sheila Hill-Christian. He has amended it three times, most recently in November to include a claim of “spoliation of evidence” related to the box.

That’s a fancy way of accusing them of destroying supporting audit records he claims were essential to now-over review of the police overtime by the State Auditor’s Office.

His amended complaint says the city and chief waited an “unreasonable length of time to attempt to find these documents and then made little effort to find them or to discover how they came to be lost or destroyed.”

The records were stored in a banker’s box and left clearly marked and secured at the police department’s Inspections Section before Butler was transferred to another area of the police department in March 2018, according to a memo Butler wrote last fall to the city manager.

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 in October 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.

Last fall, Butler asked the current city manager, Patrick Duhaney, for an outside criminal and/or administrative investigation into the situation.

“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," he wrote.

The city was under subpoena to retain all records related to the internal police audit while the State Auditor’s Office reviewed 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,” the mayor wrote in an email to City Solicitor Paula Boggs Muething, Duhaney and other city administrators back on April 26, 2018, when Muething forwarded them information about the subpoena.

Butler’s attorney has called the case “a political hot potato” and said he believes the records were gone.

In December, the police department launched an internal investigation into the missing box.

Shortly after, Butler complained in a memo to the chief the probe was tainted and once again asked for an outside investigation.

The internal probe, however, continued.

Attorney Brian Gillan (Photo: FOX19 NOW/Jennifer Edwards Baker)
Attorney Brian Gillan (Photo: FOX19 NOW/Jennifer Edwards Baker)

Butler was reprimanded after alleging during his internal investigation interview that the police chief came to the Inspections Section captain’s office on March 8 or 9, 2018, and asked Butler for the location of items from CPD’s 2017 interdepartmental audit on overtime, police records show.

Butler stated he advised the chief the items were in the Inspections Section office and Isaac left his office and went to the Inspection Section main office.

“Captain Butler further stated a short time later an unknown member of the Inspections Section told him’ The chief took everything.'"

(Photo: Liz Dufour/The Enquirer)
(Photo: Liz Dufour/The Enquirer)

The investigation determined Theetge and Capt. Dennis Swingley said Butler told them he left the box in his office when he was transferred March 18, 2018.

Then, Butler wrote a complaint form later that year, on Oct. 17, 2018, the supporting documentation for the audit was clearly marked and secured at the Inspections Section office before he was transferred along with two other co-workers, his reprimand notes.

The internal investigation determined the chief did not remove any items related to the audit from the Inspections Section Office.

“Based on the IIS Investigation, IIS recommends this portion of the investigation be closed UNFOUNDED," the internal report states.

“The statements made by Captain Butler alleging on March 8 or 9, 2018, Chief Isaac removed items related to the audit from the Inspections Section office are inaccurate, intentional and misleading," the report states. "Captain Butler’s actions are in violation of Rule 2.03B of the Manual of Rules and Regulations and Disciplinary Process for the Cincinnati Police Department, which states:

  • “2.03 Members shell submit all necessary reports on time and in accordance with established Departmental procedures. This rule is intended to be used for situations not rising to the level of seriousness outlined in Rule 5.01.”
  • Reports submitted by members, as well as official statements, whether verbal or written, that contain inaccurate, incomplete, or improper information, including omissions, as a result of intentional conduct by members designed to mislead are covered under Section B. of Rule 2.03."

“Based on the IIS investigation, IIS recommends this portion of the investigation be closed SUSTAINED- OTHER.”

The captain assigned to oversee the internal investigation, Neville, approved the report on May 30, the same day it was submitted to Assistant City Manager John Juech, a copy of it shows.

Juech approved it more than a month later, on July 1, with the recommended discipline of a written reprimand.

However, Butler’s lawyer notes that Butler told internal investigators someone told Butler the chief took the binder of audit records and everything meaning all the documentation in the binder, not the box of supporting documents.

Butler also sent Bailey an email on March, 7, 2018 that Butler gave the chief the binder with the audit that had been in Bailey’s office, his lawyer said.

This is the latest dispute between the longtime police official and the city and/or police officials.

Butler claims in his original lawsuit, filed in September 2017, he was retaliated against after he raised questions about how the city spent its 911 fees and grant dollars while he was overseeing the Emergency Communications Center from Jan. 3, 2016 to Jan. 1, 2017, when he says he was moved and stripped of his managerial duties with virtually no notice.

The suit also claims Black ran city purchases through a company run by a friend that required a 15 percent mark-up.

Butler’s suit also says the mayor led “a concerted public campaign to demonize Captain Butler as a racist, a bad cop, and someone whose lawsuit was designed to undermine the contractual relationship between the City of Cincinnati and minority-owned business enterprises."

City leaders have called the suit “frivolous" and said they were confident it would be dismissed.

It is still pending in federal court with a judge expected to rule at any point whether it can proceed.

After Butler was pulled out of the city’s 911 center, he was assigned to CPD’s Inspections Section, where he oversaw an interdepartmental audit of police overtime in 2017 as part of his regular duties.

RELATED | Draft audit of CPD overtime: ‘Intentional actions to maximize compensation’ | Prosecutor asks state auditor to review CPD overtime amid ‘illegal’ abuse claims

The audit, however, became controversial after someone leaked a draft to the media in March 2018.

That set off a tumultuous chain of events that led to the ouster of the second-in-command at the police department, Assistant Chief David Bailey, and, ultimately, the city manager after he became embroiled in a public fight with the mayor after the mayor asked him to resign and he initially refused before quitting several weeks later.

Butler and Bailey also were named in a sexual discrimination complaint, along with a current assistant police chief who was her supervisor at the time, Assistant Police Chief Paul Neudigate.

Captain Bridget Bardua accuses them of singling her out in the 2017 interdepartmental police overtime audit because she’s a woman and “also because I support an African American Chief of Cincinnati Police," a copy of her complaint states.

The day after her complaint was publicly revealed, the audit was leaked to the media.

Later in March 2018, Butler was moved to the Cincinnati Police Academy.

The following month, he amended his lawsuit again, this time related to the overtime concerns the audit raised.

Butler alleged “illegal abuse” by officers scamming the system for more pay while the police chief turned a blind eye, according to a copy of his complaint.

Butler's lawsuit said Black and the chief retaliated against him in response to an audit Butler led of the police department's overtime and the chief's "improper relationship" with a subordinate employee, Bardua.

"Rather, Chief Isaac went out of his way to protect Capt. Bardua from the consequences of her abuse of the overtime system and her allowing officers in District 5 to abuse the system, the suit alleges. "Chief Isaac did so because of his close, personal relationship with Capt. Bardua. It is well-known within the police department that Chief Isaac and Capt. Bardua are close friends.

"Numerous officers have seen the out at restaurants and movie theaters. Because (Butler) lives on the same street as Capt. Bardua, on numerous occasions when he was home appropriately and off duty, caring for his ill relative, he observed Chief Isaac's gray Taurus and black Taurus in Capt. Bardua's garage during duty hours," the suit states.

The mayor alerted Hamilton County Prosecutor Joe Deters, who then asked the State Auditor’s Office to take a look at how tax dollars were spent on police overtime.

The state audit of the city of Cincinnati did not produce any criminal findings, Deters said, but state auditors did conclude there was a “systematic” overtime problem in the police and fire departments and in public works.

Meanwhile, overtime in the police department fell a stunning 47 percent last year once the audit began, indicating something was off, State Auditor Keith Faber told FOX19 NOW earlier this year.

State auditors recommended changes and improvements in how overtime wages and compensatory time is handled, changes the police department already had incorporated by the time the audit was released.

Copyright 2019 WXIX. All rights reserved.