CINCINNATI, OH (FOX19) - Cincinnati's city manager is calling for federal prosecutors to investigate what he calls "a rogue element" that is corrupt in the police department.
Harry Black is concerned our media partners at the Cincinnati Enquirer obtained a draft form of an audit on police overtime, according to an early morning text message he sent Wednesday to Mayor John Cranley and other city leaders.
It "reinforces my ongoing concern related to a rogue element within the Department that seeks to be disruptive and insubordinate relative to Issue 5 and the reality that you have an African American Police Chief and City Manager. This rogue element is corrupt. It ultimately may require the intervention of outside law enforcement to ferret out."
Black elaborated in comments to reporters at City Hall later Wednesday.
"You're talking barely a handful of individuals who are committed to disrupting and ensuring that this police chief is not successful. Because of his race? Because of several reasons," Black said. "But the race has been pointed out. That could very well be one of the reasons."
Mayor John Cranley, however, isn't so sure federal officials need to get involved.
"Corruption is a very serious charge and we must be vigilant about it if it is true," he wrote Black in an email Wednesday.
"Who is corrupt and what have they done? Please share with us any and all elements of corruption you are aware of. It is also very disturbing if there are actions occurring that are based on you or the police chief's race. Totally unacceptable! Please share with us any and all elements of racial actions that you are aware of.
"These statements are so disturbing that you may want to address all of this at City Council today. Potential police spending, corruption, and racial animus is not something we can ignore, but need to openly deal with."
Black responded to Cranley's email with two sentences: "It is my plan to request the US Attorneys office look into this. As so (it) will not be appropriate to get into public discussion of this at this time."
Cranley instructed Black to be more transparent than that.
"I respectfully disagree. There is so much being alleged—corruption, racism, misuse of taxpayer money and sex discrimination....that our credibility will be called into question. We have to deal with these issues.
"You can certainly send anything to the US Attorney, but presumably what you send will be a public record. While waiting for whatever they might do, we have to make sure this city is operating appropriately.
"You mention adding context to the audit. Maybe you should prepare a written response that explains the many other concerns that you have. Maybe that is a better forum to respond thoughtfully than in city council today. However, the public deserves explanations sooner rather than later."
The audit has been causing turmoil among some of the agency's highest ranking officials. District 5 Captain Bridget Bardua filed a sexual discrimination complaint Monday. It accuses two assistant chiefs and a fellow captain of singling her out in the audit because she's a woman and "also because I support an African American Chief of Cincinnati Police."
FOX19 NOW has been asking the police department for the same report. We also have requested figures on all police overtime for the past two years, 2015-2017, to no avail.
We asked a police department spokesman for the audit again Wednesday morning after the Enquirer obtained it, this time copying the mayor's office and a city spokesman on our request.
The police spokesman, Lt. Steve Saunders, did not respond. A city spokesman, Rocky Merz, wrote in an email: "The City nor CPD records has released anything as the audit has not been finalized by CPD."
We continued to request the audit.
A few hours later, Merz emailed us a copy of it and memos about it from Black and Isaac.
The audit found Bardua, collected overtime pay and compensatory time off valued at more than $82,000 last year – about $20,000 more than any other district commander. It also found that she approved overtime and compensatory time for two sergeants under her command worth at least $90,000 each. One, Neighborhood Liaison Sgt. Jason Volkerding, had $126,225.
According to the audit, the payments are part of a broader problem involving police department overtime, either because of misunderstandings about policy or intentional manipulation.
The audit was triggered by a previous one, released in March 2016, by city officials that found police needed to conduct more regular audits of its overtime spending to prevent waste.
The audit was conducted by the department's inspections section, which is led by Capt. Jeff Butler. Bardua's complaint blames Butler and two assistant chiefs, Paul Neudigate and David Bailey, for the discriminatory behavior she describes in her complaint.
Isaac sent a memo to Black on Wednesday describing the audit as still being under his review and not approved for public release. He said the department's financial manager still has not verified the figures in the audit and at least one allegation, that the department ran $1.8 million over budget in overtime, is inaccurate.
"The tone in which this audit is written is unusual for a fact gathering document," Isaac wrote. "There are several significant factors regarding the audit that are of serious concern requiring my further review."
The leader of the union that represents Cincinnati police looked visibly stunned as he responded to Black's "rogue element" allegation.
"I've never heard of any such plot or plan or element that's out there and I think that he ought to come forth with evidence he has about those statements," Sgt. Dan Hils told reporters at the FOP Hall.
Black said he will work with the city solicitor "to determine the best way to handle my concerns regarding what I believe to be irregular behavior within the Department."
This is the latest controversy to erupt about Cincinnati police in what is becoming a long string:
- District 5 police station in Clifton closed to the public last fall amid concern over health and working conditions in the 61-year-old Ludlow Avenue building. Several employees have been moved to other police facilities, and all patrol officers are to be relocated to a temporary location in College Hill by month's end until a new headquarters is available, city records show. A federal review of the facility at the city's request concluded no link between it and officers and others who work there being diagnosed with cancer.
- The city and police department's management of the city's emergency communications center where 911 calls are routed in life-or-death situations came under fire last week when a former city employee's memo criticizing it became public. It's so mismanaged it "poses a threat" to public safety, the employee's lengthy and, at times, explosive memo states.
- A high-ranking, veteran police official, Captain Jeff Butler, filed a federal lawsuit after the city manager denied him a promotion, claiming Black is running city purchases through a company run by one of Black's friends. Butler also claims Black misused federal Homeland Security grant money. Butler has since added the mayor to the lawsuit, alleging he is the victim of a "smear campaign." Black has said the lawsuit is frivolous and dismissed Butler as a disgruntled employee who unsuccessfully tried to be an assistant chief.
- A former police officer, Jason Cotterman, alleged in a federal lawsuit filed last year the police department 'has a policy of punishing, reprimanding and otherwise retaliating against officers that do not toe the line and go along with" its public version of events. He claims the city, aided by the police department, maliciously prosecuted him in a 2015 criminal case related to a fellow officer's off duty, single vehicle crash. He was acquitted in a March 2016 trial but lost his job in a medical separation two months later.
- Cincinnati police suspected one of their own may be a "dirty" cop. An internal investigation was launched. We are not naming the officer because he has not been charged with a crime and, according to police records, the allegations against him were “Not Sustained.” He remains on active duty.
- The FOP voted against participating in a "refresh" of the city's historic Collaborative Agreement, a court-binding document listing standards for the city's police-community relations. Hils said the union withdrew over criticism of a sergeant's testimony during the second Ray Tensing murder trial. The FOP did an about-face and voted to participate in the Collaborative refresh a month later.
- Hils filed a police report and grievance against Black after Black called him on his cell phone at 11:42 p.m. Hils said Black tried to intimidate and harass him, threatening to have him investigated by the U.S. Department of Justice and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) because he doesn't like the way he advocates for officers. The city's human resources department, which is overseen by Black, denied the grievance. The Hamilton County Prosecutor's Office reviewed the phone call and decided no criminal charges were appropriate.
- An organization for black Cincinnati officers took a unanimous no confidence vote in Hils after a black police official filed and equal employment opportunity (EEO) complaint against Hils and the police department launched an internal investigation. It showed a clear and growing racial divide within the police department amid yet another clash between Hils and Officer Eddie Hawkins, the leader of the Sentinel Police Association.
A group of local civil rights organizations including the Cincinnati chapter of the NAACP and the Sentinel Police Association accused Hils of "recklessness" and called for the chief to hold him accountable for "abuse and misuse" of his position. Hils conceded he used the term "urban ghetto" when he recently addressed rank and file members during a District 4 roll call and apologized.
- An audit released in March 2016 found problems with the way Cincinnati police issued overtime for officers. According to the report, between July of 2014 and September of 2015, more than half of all overtime requests weren't approved or verified correctly. The annual overtime budget for the department is nearly $6.5 million. CPD has agreed to overhaul the way it reports overtime to make improvements.
- Isaac was appointed police chief in September 2015 and permanently named to the job three months later after Black fired then-Police Chief Jeffrey Blackwell amid what Black described as extensive issues that ultimately created a "toxic" work environment within the agency. In August 2016, however, Black and a city attorney quietly signed a $250,000 settlement with Blackwell that changed his termination status to resignation instead of firing without notifying City Council. Blackwell is not permitted to discuss the settlement or criticize the city. His badge and two service weapons were returned.