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Henderson police offer no reason ticket dismissed for ‘family/friends’

In its official response to a city audit, the Henderson Police Department did not explain why officers dismissed a traffic ticket received by a friend or relative of a police employee.

The audit found police improperly had 96 citations dismissed after they had been filed in court — and in one case, listed the reason for dismissal as “Interest of Justice Family/Friends of HPD” on a departmental form.

In March, police spokeswoman Michelle French called that reason “not acceptable under our policy.”

But Police Chief Patrick Moers’ five-page response to the audit never mentions the “family/friends” case and makes no attempt to explain it. Moers did not return a call for comment Monday.

The officer who filled out that form — and two supervisors who signed off on it — are still on the force. Their ranks and assignments have not changed, city spokeswoman Kathleen Richards said Monday.

An Internal Affairs Bureau investigation into the issue started March 25 and ended May 21, but Richards said she could not discuss its findings or whether any officers had been disciplined because it involved personnel matters.

City Manager Robert Murnane, who took office last week, was not involved with the audit. But he said audits — and responses to them — generally focus on what needs to be changed to prevent future problems, rather than on why an employee might have done something wrong.

City spokesman Bud Cranor said changes mentioned in Moers’ response, such as a revised form and new procedures for working with the city attorney’s office, are meant to ensure there won’t be a repeat of the “family/friends” case.

The police chief’s response to the audit is dated March 31. But it was not made public until the city released it Monday after repeated requests by the Review-Journal dating back to April.

The audit covered Oct. 1, 2012, through Sept. 30, 2014, a period in which Henderson police wrote 37,256 citations — an average of 51 a day. Of 171 tickets voided at the request of police, the majority — 96 of them — were dismissed after being filed in court.

Under state law, only a judge can throw out a ticket once it’s been filed in court, but the city auditor said officers routinely had citations dismissed by filling out an internal form and filing it with Henderson Municipal Court staff. The citations were then dismissed by court staff without a hearing before a judge.

The audit found officers might not have realized this was improper, since police policies didn’t make the law clear.

In his response, Moers wrote that the department has revised forms and policies to reflect that officers cannot “dismiss” citations.

Cranor said a deputy chief, rather than a lieutenant, must now sign off on requests to void citations already filed in court. And the city attorney’s office will decide whether to ask a judge to dismiss such citations.

Moers wrote that the auditor’s central finding — that officers had citations dismissed after they were filed in court — was “inaccurate” because court officials made the final determination to dismiss. But the chief said changes in a departmental form will “avoid confusion and the appearance HPD is dismissing citations.”

In the 96 cases reviewed by the auditor, officers listed the reason as “in the interest of justice.” There was no elaboration except on one form filled out by Officer Angela Walter.

On Jan. 24, 2014, Walter asked to void a citation issued Dec. 20, 2013, to Bethany Flores-Rubi of Henderson and listed as the reason “Interest of Justice Family/Friends of HPD.”

Flores-Rubi had been accused of failing to obey a “traffic control device,” which typically means running a red light or stop sign. The form does not say how Flores-Rubi knew a police employee, and she could not be reached for comment.

Two supervisors, Sgt. Michael Gillis and Lt. Brandon Brooks, signed off on Walter’s request, and the ticket was voided.

Officers are allowed to ask that a ticket be voided for legitimate reasons, such as an error made in writing the citation or a speeding driver proving he was on his way to a family emergency.

“Interest of justice,” a broad legal term, was one of the suggested reasons for voiding a ticket listed in Police Department policies. But the audit recommended that police require officers to give more detailed reasons from now on.

Cranor said new policies do exactly that, in part to avoid what the policy calls the “appearance of impropriety.”

Contact Eric Hartley at ehartley@reviewjournal.com or 702-550-9229. Find him on Twitter: @ethartley.

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