Hutchinson Police Chief Fires Three Officers, Suspends Fourth Around February Traffic Stop

Kansas – The Hutchinson Police Department this week fired three employees in connection with the handling of a February traffic stop involving an-off duty officer reported to be driving erratically.

Another officer was suspended, one was exonerated of wrongdoing and action remains pending against a sixth individual, Hutchinson Police Chief Jeffrey Hooper announced during an afternoon press conference Wednesday at City Hall.

The department will also be changing its command structure, said Hooper, who’s been on the job just two weeks, including naming an officer to oversee public and internal complaints and handle internal affairs.

Hooper would not identify the disciplined employees or their ranks and declined to say if they were fired for lying or for the way they handled the initial investigation.

The chief did confirm one of the three was nearly 30-year employee Capt. Troy Hoover, who was fired on Monday.

About a dozen officers attended the press conference in the City Council chambers.

The city’s actions, City Manager John Deardoff advised, came after an internal investigation by the city rather than as a result of a separate investigation being conducted by the FBI and KBI at the request of the Reno County District Attorney.

The city brought in a labor attorney from Ohio to conduct its investigation. He worked with the city manager, city attorney and director of Human Resources.

The Feb. 25 traffic stop occurred in the early afternoon after repeated calls to 911 about an erratic driver on K-96, who turned out to be Community Policing Officer Anna Ruzhanovska. The officer was not tested for sobriety, but claiming a medical issue was driven home.

Deardoff said he learned of the stop the next day and, after contacting police administration, “was assured the stop was properly handled and procedures followed,” Deardoff said.

“In mid-June, after multiple complaints from the press and city council, the administration reviewed the police department actions,” Deardoff said. “In short, what we discovered is that it was not consistent with what we were told by HPD administration.”

The city attorney was then asked to contact the District Attorney, who, in turn, requested the KBI and FBI investigations.

They’d hoped, Deardoff said, that the outside investigations would be quick, but they were not. Officials this week were still are unsure when those state and federal investigations will be done, Chief Hooper said.

“I got a briefing earlier this week, and that (investigation) is still going to take some time,” Hooper said.

In mid-August City officials decided to do their own investigation and formed the investigative committee.

“After it was completed, members of the administration and field officers were terminated or disciplined,” Deardoff said. “It’s an internal personnel matter, so we’ll not discuss any further the disciplinary actions against the officers.”

Action on the sixth employee “is pending further review of the evidence,” Hooper said. He didn’t indicate when that might be completed.

“One of the things I said a couple of weeks ago when I was sworn in is that this agency will operate with the utmost integrity,” said Hooper, who started on the job Oct. 22. “We will hold ourselves accountable. Those employees who are not honest, don’t have integrity and are not professional will not serve on the HPD.”

“I’m extremely proud of the men and women at the HPD I work with,” the chief said. “They’ve become family in a short time.”

“All of this obviously has put a strain on the agency, which is working short of personnel,” he said. “It has shown me how much everyone cares about their community. They’ve rallied together: administrative staff are going back on patrol to help on the street; officers are changing days off to fill in and coming in off special assignment to assist on the street.”

They are testing candidates this weekend, he said, “hoping to get new officers on the street,” as well as stepping up recruitment efforts.

He plans to restructure the command staff, Hooper said, and rather than appoint an assistant chief, which was Hoover’s position before Hooper’s arrival, he’ll have three captains handle different aspects of the department’s operations.

He said he had not discussed the plan with the city manager yet, so declined to say more, other than that one will be appointed to the Office of Professional Standards, to oversee internal investigation, training and recruitment. That office will also have a lieutenant, Hooper said.

“I knew when I signed on I’d be taking responsibility (for the investigation),” said Hooper, who came to Hutchinson after 27 years with law enforcement in Riley County. “I was honored to do that. I believe in this city, I believe in the department. But I’ve got to tell you, the last three days have been the hardest of my professional career.”

“But I feel like we’ll be a better agency, better able to serve our community because of what we’ve done,” he said. “My goal is to take a very bad situation and make the best of it, learn from it and do better. I’m serious about the standards for this department.”

Officers will make mistakes, Hooper said, particularly since they’re hiring young men, “kids who are 21 and 22.”

“But if they try to do the right thing, we’ll help them, and teach them. We’ll help them be better,” he said. “I’d rather have young kids with heart than a seasoned veteran if they don’t have integrity.”


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Filming Cops
Filming Cops 5618 posts

Filming Cops was started in 2010 as a conglomerative blogging service documenting police abuse. The aim isn’t to demonize the natural concept of security provision as such, but to highlight specific cases of State-monopolized police brutality that are otherwise ignored by traditional media outlets.

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