ACLU questions inaction on OPD evidence planting case

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January 18th, 2011

Update: The Omaha Police Department released a statement regarding this case late Friday, Jan. 21. Spokesperson Lt. Darci Tierney said the investigation is ongoing, while the officers remain on paid administrative leave. Here’s an excerpt of the statement.

“The nature of the allegations themselves determines the Chief’s decision to place officers on paid leave or administrative duty, not their assumed guilt or innocence.  We will continue to investigate this personnel matter and use any resources needed to bring this to a conclusion.  As with any investigation, thoroughness and the integrity of the investigation are of utmost importance so we ask that the public be patient as we continue this investigation.”
“We recognize that the public wants to know what happened and are aware of their concerns that a fair and impartial investigation be conducted.  In light of this, Chief Hayes has enlisted the assistance of the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the United States Attorney’s Office to provide an independent review of the case.  We have been in contact with the FBI about this case since June.  The case is also being reviewed by Douglas County Attorney Don Kleine to determine if there is any merit to criminal charges.”
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Lincoln, NE – Nine months after allegations arose over Omaha police officers planting evidence in a drug case, there has been no official report on what happened or if any policy or staff changes resulted. As Bill Kelly reports, that silence concerns the state’s director of the American Civil Liberties Union.

The accusation was alarming.  An Omaha police officer overheard his partner talking on the phone suggesting marijuana could be planted in a suspect’s garbage.  On the other end of that call was another officer… his girlfriend. The police have not discussed specifics.  The only detailed account appeared in the Omaha World Herald.

One of the officers under investigation took medical leave and left the force. The other remains on paid leave while the matter continued to be investigated.  This all took place in May of last year.  The American Civil Liberties Union says that’s too long, according to state director Amy Miller.

“It’s been nine months,” she said. “It is not clear whether or not there are going to be criminal charges filed.  If there are not going to be criminal charges filed, then these officers deserve to have their name cleared.”

Miller wrote a letter to the Omaha Police Chief and routed it to the Douglas County Attorney and the State Attorney General.  She asked if the investigation is complete, if any disciplinary action was taken, and if there is any effort to review other cases handled by these officers.

“But the public has a great need to know what, if anything, is going to be done about this,” she said. “It can’t be handled in a back room, you know, cover it up type of manner.”

The Omaha Police Department didn’t respond to requests for a comment.  There was no reply from the state or county attorneys involved. The ACLU did compliment the Omaha Police Chief for changing some procedures on how drug investigations are conducted and for implementing new reviews of search warrants.  None of the changes, the ACLU is quick to point out, respond directly to the unanswered questions about whether rules or laws were broken in the case that sparked the investigation in the first place.

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