Investigation to determine if civil rights were violated
Globe Staff Writer
The FBI is investigating whether two Joplin police officers, Charles Ward and Ron Buchanan, committed a civil-rights violation when they handcuffed and arrested an 11-year-old boy at his elementary school.
"We're conducting a preliminary investigation, which involves conducting interviews, gathering reports," Jeff Lanza, a spokesman for the FBI, said Monday.
City officials have said the officers violated several Police Department rules and procedures, and were disciplined for their actions. But the city won't disclose what the Police Department's own investigation found or what punishment the officers received. They say a city resolution keeps certain personnel information secret. The FBI inquiry may make some of that information public.
The results of the FBI's inquiry will be forwarded to the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice in Washington, D.C., Lanza said. Joplin police Chief Kevin Lindsey said the FBI told him that it has 30 days to investigate the matter and turn results over to the Justice Department.
"They will make a decision on whether or not a further investigation is warranted," Lanza said.
Lanza would not say who will be interviewed, or who has been interviewed, or how the FBI became involved, or at whose request.
Lindsey said he learned of the investigation last Wednesday with a phone call from an FBI agent.
Mayor Phil Stinnett said Monday night that the council believes the Police Department and City Manager Mark Rohr followed proper policies and procedures when investigating the incident and disciplining the officers, but said he welcomes the inquiry because it might help restore public confidence in the police force.
The results of the FBI investigation will be available to the public, subject to the federal Freedom of Information Act, Rohr said. But, the investigation may not reveal the officers' punishment, Stinnett said.
"I welcome it," Rohr said of the FBI's interest in the case. "It is a good idea, and it gives us a forum for getting all the information out there."
City officials say a city resolution keeps them from giving more details about how the department and the city dealt with the matter. Both officers are still employed by the city.
"There is a lot I would love to say, but I will have to defer to the city's personnel policies," Lindsey said.
The council has not formally discussed changing the resolution to allow the city to release such information.
The department's internal investigation into the incident included a review of criminal law, including kidnapping, but police did not find probable cause to initiate a criminal investigation, Lindsey said.
Stinnett said he was preparing to ask the council for permission to request that the Missouri State Highway Patrol investigate the matter. Now, that won't be necessary, Stinnett said.
Three attempts to reach Jamie and Jane Karns, the boy's parents, by telephone Monday were unsuccessful.
According to the family's attorney and Joplin school officials, Ward went to Eastmorland Elementary School on Nov. 15, 2004, to question the boy, who was involved in a confrontation with Ward's son a few days earlier outside a Joplin movie theater.
Ward then called Buchanan, the school's Drug Abuse Resistance Education officer, to the school. He continued to question the boy inside the principal's office before handcuffing and arresting him, and taking him to juvenile court authorities.
Lindsey and city officials have said they were not aware of the incident until the boy's family sent them a letter in February. That's when the Police Department began its own investigation, which included an apology to the family from Lindsey and two letters from the officers.
Family members said they weren't pleased with the officers' letters.
The Joplin R-8 Board of Education directed administrators to meet with Lindsey to review the school district's policies regarding when officers are to be allowed in schools. Joplin schools Superintendent Jim Simpson has said that Eastmorland Principal Lisa Webb shouldn't have cooperated with the officers.
The Globe in late April broke the story on the officers' actions, the family's dissatisfaction with the apologies, and the city's refusal to divulge the officers' punishment.
The newspaper obtained e-mail exchanges among city officials that revealed they viewed those reports as a public-relations disaster. They responded to the articles by announcing that the Police Department was accelerating its attempt to obtain national accreditation.
On May 2, Stinnett issued a public apology on behalf of the entire City Council. The family said it appreciated the mayor's words.
The officers' payroll records, requested by the Globe, revealed no obvious punishment.