published Friday, December 2nd, 2011

Cleveland police again defend teen sex inquiry

The Cleveland Police Department made its second statement in two days Thursday defending its 2008 investigation into allegations that some police officers were having sex with teenage girls and giving them pills and alcohol.

The department is reacting to a story in Tuesday’s Chattanooga Times Free Press reporting on testimony in Hamilton County Circuit Court last month during an employment lawsuit from a fired Cleveland detective. The testimony indicated that Police Chief Wes Snyder had been told about the allegations against his officers in May 2008, but didn’t launch an official investigation until December.

On Thursday, Cleveland Assistant Police Chief Gary Hicks, whose testimony formed the basis of the story, emailed a media statement, saying the story, “in my opinion, does not reflect the entire context of my testimony.”

Reporter Todd South’s story said department officials had received complaints that some officers were abusing illegally obtained prescription drugs and having sex with teenage girls. It stated that Hicks met with the officers in May 2008 and warned them they would be fired if the behavior continued.

The story stated that the police department did not open a formal investigation into the officers’ behavior at that time. Only in December, when an officer was shot by another during a pill party at one’s home and details about the teenage girls came out in the ensuing investigation, did the Cleveland Police Department begin a formal investigation, records provided to the Times Free Press show.

Eventually, two officers pleaded guilty to the statutory rape of 14- and 16-year-old girls. One also pleaded guilty to drug and forgery charges.

On Wednesday, Snyder released a statement accusing the Times Free Press of a “grossly inaccurate” account of the trial testimony.

In his statement, Hicks said he consulted with Snyder before meeting with the officers and that there were “no facts or evidence,” only “rumors” about officer misconduct.

“Over the next few months, the situation was monitored. Once facts supported rumor, Chief Snyder launched an Internal Affairs investigation that led to the dismissal and prosecution of three officers of this department,” Hicks’ statement said. “From May, 2008 until the conclusion of the investigation, Chief Snyder handled this situation appropriately.”

Neither Hicks nor Snyder was available to answer questions after releasing their statements.

Times Free Press Managing Editor Alison Gerber said in a statement that the newspaper stands by the story as reported. She noted that Snyder had been asked repeatedly to comment before the original story was published, but he declined.

Cleveland Mayor Tom Rowland did not return a message seeking comment Thursday. City Manager Janice Casteel could not be reached through a message left with her administrative assistant.

Cleveland City Councilman Bill Estes said Thursday night that some people in the community have asked him about the “messy” issue.

“It’s a concern, but I think it’ll be dealt with appropriately,” Estes said. “I have faith in our police department. I have faith in Janice [Casteel].”

Councilman Avery Johnson said he expects the council will be briefed at some point.

“We’re paying attention. We are very concerned about it,” Johnson said.

Council members David May, George Poe, Richard Banks and Charlie McKenzie did not return phone messages by press time Thursday.

about Judy Walton...

Judy Walton has worked 25 years at the Chattanooga Times and the Times Free Press as an editor and reporter focusing on government coverage and investigations. At various times she has been an assistant metro editor, region reporter and editor, county government reporter, government-beat team leader, features editor and page designer. Originally from California, Walton was brought up in a military family and attended a dozen schools across the country. She earned a journalism degree ...

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