April 25, 2012

After Three Months, Investigation Into Police Officer Yet to Show Results

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More than three months after testimony emerged accusing Ithaca Police Lt. Marlon Byrd of aiding drug dealers, no details about the city’s investigation into the accusations have been released.

Mayor Svante Myrick ’09 insisted this week that the investigation is continuing, but he declined to discuss what actions are being taken or when the inquiry may be completed.

“I can assure you the conclusions of the investigation will be made public once it’s complete,” Myrick said in an email. “I can’t talk about an investigation that is in progress.”

But Byrd, who has remained on the job except for a one-day administrative leave in January, said that he has not been interviewed or told anything in connection with the inquiry.

“I have not been given any information of substance” regarding the investigation, he said.

Similarly, Sgt. Bryan Bangs — who testified in 2010 that he had brought concerns about Bangs to the chief of police — said he did not know anything about the inquiry.

“The media reports are the only time I hear or learn of anything regarding the investigation,” Bangs said. He declined to discuss the investigation further.

The allegations against Byrd became public on Jan. 13 when The Ithaca Journal published documents from a 2010 arbitration. In the documents, several witnesses testified that Byrd, an IPD veteran of 20 years, gave narcotics dealers information about pending drug investigations — including the times and locations of drug raids — and held substances for them. The witnesses included a convicted drug dealer as well as several IPD officers.

Police reviewed the same claims in 2008 and cleared Byrd of any wrongdoing, but testimony from Officer Bob Brotherton in July suggested high-ranking IPD officers began working around Byrd for fear he would tip off drug dealers.

The city launched a new investigation in January after the accusations became public.

“These are serious allegations,” Myrick said in a statement in January. “We must get the facts straight.”

Earlier this week, Myrick emphasized that the city’s investigation is continuing.

“We’ve got some very good people working on our behalf to get to the bottom of these very serious allegations,” he said.

However, one official whose statements have previously cast doubt on Byrd’s integrity said that he was not aware of any investigation in progress.

“I have not been interviewed by anybody regarding an ongoing investigation,” said the official, who insisted on anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the press.

Other officials whose allegations formed the basis for the city’s inquiry did not respond to requests for comment.

Ithaca Police Chief Ed Vallely defended Byrd when the allegations became public in January. He told The Journal that he was “confident that Lt. Byrd’s name will once again be cleared.”

This week, Vallely did not respond to a request for comment about the investigation or about whether he continued to support Byrd.

Byrd was placed on administrative leave for one day in late January. He quickly returned to work after a “personnel assessment” determined that the lieutenant was “fit to continue in his responsibilities” pending further investigation, Myrick announced Feb. 1.

Although several officers raised questions about Byrd’s conduct, the veracity of the allegations against him remains unclear.

The accusations all stem from the 2010 arbitration of officer Chris Miller, who claims IPD racially discriminates against white officers. Miller also filed a lawsuit against IPD in spring 2010 for $17 million, claiming he suffered racial discrimination when Byrd was promoted to lieutenant instead of Miller.

To further his claim, Miller said that Byrd should not have defeated him for the lieutenant promotion, in part because Byrd is a “poor police officer.” Miller and other officers, all of whom are white, testified that they had reason to believe Byrd had assisted drug dealers.

In interviews with The Sun in March, several city officials and community leaders said that Byrd, a black officer who was born and raised on Ithaca’s south side, is being targeted primarily because of his connection to the city’s black community — a community whose relationship with IPD is often marked by tension, antipathy and sporadic violence, they said.

Original Author: Michael Linhorst