March 14, 2012

Ithaca Police Officer: 1994 Reprimand Taken Out of Context

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Marlon Byrd, the Ithaca Police lieutenant accused of aiding drug dealers, defended himself in an internal department email Saturday after a 1994 reprimand against him was published in local media last week.

In the incident nearly 18 years ago, Byrd received a written reprimand and was charged with incompetency for failing to turn in or report several pieces of potential narcotics evidence.The reprimand came after two staff members of the Ithaca Neighborhood Housing Services handed Byrd “several empty plastic bags and a small plastic bag with white powder-like contents” suspected of being drugs, and he did not report the items or turn them in as evidence, according to documents published by The Ithaca Journal. Byrd waived his right to an arbitration hearing on the charges and accepted the reprimand.But in his email to fellow officers on Saturday, Byrd argued that The Journal’s story missed important context and gave a false impression of the situation.“I regret not contesting the language of ‘incompetency’ because my actions at the time had nothing to do with competency,” Byrd wrote in the email, referring to the language used in the reprimand.“In my opinion, the items they turned over to me were garbage and not worth tagging or testing, so I discarded them into the trash,” he wrote, adding that there were no suspects associated with the items. He said that it was not common practice in 1994 to tag every potential piece of evidence — which is the standard today — and that his actions were consistent with those of other officers.In the email, Byrd emphasized that, although he did not think he had done anything wrong, he recognized he violated department regulations and did not contest the reprimand.“The chief informed me that he believed my version of events, but nonetheless, I had violated a general order. Being the person that I am, I understood what he was saying to be correct,” Byrd wrote in the email, which he forwarded to The Sun. Seventeen years ago, “I was a strong believer in people owning up to what they do wrong … and I still hold that position today,” he said.He added that, “since that 1994 incident, I have had an unblemished career.”The 1994 reprimand has come to light amid an ongoing investigation into charges that Byrd tipped off drug dealers in advance of police raids and even held drugs for a woman convicted of narcotics trafficking.The accusations against Byrd, which were first published by The Journal on Jan. 13, remain unresolved. Ithaca Mayor Svante Myrick ’09 and Tompkins County District Attorney Gwen Wilkinson are currently investigating the charges.All the published evidence against Byrd originates with the arbitration of Chris Miller — a white officer who is fighting what he says is racial discrimination within the IPD — but damaging accusations have been made under oath by multiple sources.Miller, as well as several other white officers, testified that they had reason to believe Byrd had assisted drug dealers.“There were times during some of our briefs, and talking to others, where they would always wait to the last minute to let us know about warrants because they didn’t want information getting out,” Officer Bob Brotherton testified during Miller’s arbitration. He added that there were concerns that “Byrd would give out information to where we’d be going.”In addition, convicted drug trafficker Debria “Ney-Ney” Beverly, who said she dated Byrd for four years, testified that Byrd often held drugs for her in his police vehicle during the day before returning them to her at night.In an email to The Sun on Wednesday, Byrd declined to comment on the investigation, except to say that all the allegations are false and he is “confident that a competent and thorough investigation will reveal the same.”Byrd, in his email to fellow officers, also decried the publication of information from his “private personnel file.”Mayor Myrick agreed that the reprimand should not have been released to the media. In a statement issued to The Journal on Friday, Myrick said that, in addition to his investigation into the allegations against Byrd, he plans to investigate how Byrd’s 1994 disciplinary notice was leaked.“This Notice of Discipline is protected from disclosure by law, and its release was unlawful,” he said. “We cannot allow any city employee to be persecuted by the press — and convicted by the public — without the benefit of a thorough investigation. Therefore, we will also investigate how this 1994 Notice of Discipline was released, and will consider legal action against the source of this release.”Despite the accusations against him, several city officials, community leaders and members of the city’s black community called Byrd an exemplary officer. According to them, Byrd’s willingness to forge ties with the community — which they called his biggest asset as an officer — is the same trait that made him susceptible to the allegations.For instance, when the fatal shooting of a black man by a white officer in 2010 threatened to bring racial tensions in the City of Ithaca to a boil, Byrd spearheaded an effort to reconcile the IPD with the city’s black community, according to Audrey Cooper, director of the Multicultural Resource Center.Byrd emphasized the importance of community policing — developing personal relationships with the residents of certain neighborhoods — as an effective means of reducing tension.“My philosophy is that if people get to know officers as individuals instead of as just the law, they develop a mutual respect for each other,” he told The Sun in August 2010. “I want the police to also see the community in not just a negative way.”

Jeff Stein contributed to this report.

Original Author: Michael Linhorst