By Kelli Stopczynski (email@example.com)
7:48 PM EST, December 7, 2012
Should a South Bend police officer have known he was doing something wrong when he released an internal report he filed to a local TV station, or is the police department's duty manual unclear?
Attorneys representing the city of South Bend and Patrolman Jack Stilp debated the issue during a Board of Public Safety hearing that lasted more than six hours Friday.
It all stems from a phone call Metro Homicide Commander Tim Corbett made to Stilp in April. Stilp said he felt Corbett threatened him during their conversation, so he filed an internal report to protect himself – in case he was ever part of an officer involved shooting or any other Metro Homicide investigation.
St. Joseph County Prosecutor Mike Dvorak hired an outside investigator and ultimately suspended Corbett five days on August 29 for being discourteous to Stilp. Interim South Bend Police Chief Chuck Hurley has recommended the board approve a 10-day suspension for Stilp because he released the report.
“Common sense tells you that certain investigative type of things are not to be discussed with the press other than the chief of police or [public information officer] but this was not a criminal investigation,” Stilp testified.
For that reason, Stilp said he thought the internal report he filed about his conversation with Corbett was “nothing more than an internal memo.”
“You can’t punish this guy for something nobody knew was wrong,” argued Stilp’s attorney, Tom Dixon.
The department’s policy about releasing information to the news media is not clear, Dixon added.
“Written policies are not going to cover everything,” testified Interim Police Chief Chuck Hurley. “Does it specifically say in the policy that you can’t release an officer’s report? No.”
But Assistant City Attorney Andrea Beachkofsky said Section Two of the department’s duty manual is clear – and only the chief of police or designated spokesperson can release sensitive information or reports. And, she argued, Stilp’s internal report was sensitive.
Stilp said he did not expect or invite a local TV station to show up at his home until his supervisor called to warn him that station had called for him. When Stilp was on the phone with that supervisor – Capt. Terry Young, he pulled into his driveway and realized a reporter was already in his driveway.
“I told him in his own house and driveway, I really couldn’t tell him he couldn’t say anything to anybody and that was the extent of what I said,” Young testified.
Young also told the board he advised Stilp he had the option to tell the reporter he “had no comment.” But a video of that news story that played during the hearing showed Stilp giving an interview minutes after he hung up with Young.
Early on in the hearing, Dixon said nothing related to the federal wiretapping investigation into the police department’s phone procedures would come up. But inevitably, while questioning Tim Corbett, it did.
“Your phone call had nothing whatsoever to do with the demotion of Chief Boykins?” Dixon asked Corbett.
“I’m going to object,” said Beachkofsky. “Again, this is completely irrelevant.”
The board then told Dixon that question wouldn’t be allowed.
“Come on, how can you sustain that? This is the single most important issue in our community right now and we’re not letting any information come out because of a miniscule characterization of what the issues are in this case,” Dixon said.
“Whatever community issues are going on right now are not relevant to this case. The reason we are here is because officer Stilp has been charged with violating the duty manual,” Beachkofsky replied.
Stilp’s attorney also argued the threat of a 10-day suspension violates the state Whistleblower Laws. He said his client filed that report to protect himself during potential future Metro Homicide investigations, should they arise. He also said Stilp turned the report over to that local TV station because he felt his bosses weren’t doing enough about it.
The Board of Public Safety took the case under advisement – meaning it needs time to review everything presented. The board likely won’t have a ruling until its January meeting.
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