By GARY POPP
NEW ALBANY —
The attorney for a New Albany Police Department officer who has asked that alleged corruption at the agency be investigated says legal action will be taken against the department.
Louisville attorney Laura Landenwich said she and her client, 19-year NAPD Officer Laura Schook, have not determined the particulars of the civil suit they will file. Schook has taken issue with the department and the failure of the New Albany Police Merit Commission to act following complaints of misconduct she made during a commission meeting in March.
During the commission meeting Thursday, Schook asked the board to have the Indiana State Police conduct an investigation into NAPD.
“I advised you of several problems occurring within this department, including possible serious criminal conduct by members of this department; an alleged, corrupt police administration; and a facilitation of a discriminative, hostile work environment,” Schook said.
Landenwich said the issues that Schook took to the board in March have not been resolved, and she gave additional insight to Schook’s grievances with the department.
She said in 2010, Schook told her supervisor then-Maj. Knight, of misconduct of other officers on her shift.
“She reported to [Knight] that her superiors were stealing time from the department,” Landenwich said. “That included not only writing in hours that they had not worked, but they were getting paid for hours that they just weren’t even around.”
Landenwich identified NAPD officers Gary Humphrey and Jon Tucker as those who Schook observed committing the misconduct, which she later reported to Knight.
Humphrey is the co-owner of River City Winery along Pearl Street in New Albany, and Tucker is the owner of Jon Tucker Photography, which offers “Family Photography for a Family Budget,” according to the website jontuckerphoto.com.
“He [Humphrey] was one of the two [officers] who she had observed padding his time sheets. And, also it was widely known and accepted that when he was on patrol, he would not be responding to calls because his car would be parked at the restaurant while he was doing renovation work. And, as I understand it, [Humphrey] was quite open about it, at least in terms to officers on that shift.”
Landenwich says that Schook claims Tucker would sit in his patrol car while on duty and use a computer to conduct his private business.
“He runs a photography business, and what he would do is find a spot to park and Photoshop and do whatever, work on his images from his photography business,” she said. “He also would brag about how many movies he would watch while he was parked.”
According to Landenwich, Knight, as a major, disregarded Schook’s claims of misconduct, and instead made her a target of fellow officers.
“Major Knight, rather than investigating, rather than disciplining, I mean, you are talking about thousands of taxpayer dollars, here, rather than doing anything, she told Jon Tucker, Gary Humphrey, and the captain on the shift at that time, who was Eric Higdon, told all of them that Laura Schook was ratting them out.”
Landenwich claims that Knight’s failure to take action as a supervising officer resulted in not only the officers not being held accountable for the alleged misconduct, but it put Schook in serious danger as an officer.
“After that report was made [in 2010] Laura [Schook] began to find herself working in the least desirable areas of the city every shift,” Landenwich said. “She would have no backup when they would call out for a two- or three-car response. Everyone knew that you were not supposed to give her backup, and so she would go out alone and break up bar fights and things like that.”
Landenwich said Schook has an outstanding record as an officer.
“She, actually, statistically, has either the first or second highest number of arrests of anybody on her shift,” she said. “Her statistics are phenomenal.”
Landenwich claims that because Schook reported the alleged misconduct, she began to receive negative performance reviews. She said she received a poor attendance review after missing several weeks of work because of a broken ankle that required surgery.
“[Schook] received the lowest score that you can possibly receive for attendance, and was told that she needs to ‘get in the game’ and spend more time at work if she wants to excel at the job,” Landenwich said.
The department’s performance review is one factor in the New Albany Police Merit Commission’s ranking mechanism to promote officers. The others are written test and oral interviews, both conducted by the merit commission.
“She has been there 19 years and can’t get a promotion,” Landenwich said.
If efforts were made within the department to disparage Schook’s performance history, a factor that can affect an officer’s overall ranking leading up to a promotion, her other attributes got the attention of the merit commission.
Merit Commission President Eddie Hodges said Schook was at the top of the list for officers up for promotion in 2013. Hodges said the commission recommended Schook to Knight for promotion before the end of last year.
“They [NAPD administrators] came to us, I believe it was in December, and said we need a corporal, so we gave them a name [Schook]. Then they came in January and said, they couldn’t do it because [New Albany Mayor Jeff Gahan] froze hiring and promotion, and that is all I know about it,” he said.
When Hodges, who has 10 years with the merit commission, was asked if it appeared odd to him that the department would not promote a person when they had made a request for a promotion a month earlier, he said, “With what is going on at present, I really don’t want to comment on that right now.”
After the merit commission meeting, the board went into executive session and discussed Schook’s claims of misconduct and the lack of a proper investigation.
“There is nothing resolved, as of yet. It is going to be a process,” Hodges said after the executive session. “We came to the conclusion there is a lot of work ahead.”
After the merit commission executive session had adjourned Thursday, the mayor’s office released a statement about 10:30 p.m. on Knight’s behalf and in response to Schook’s comments during the meeting.
“The New Albany Police Department absolutely denies any allegations of misconduct,” Knight says in the press release. “The New Albany Police Department has operated and will continue to operate in an efficient and ethical manner. The complaints of officer Schook were fully investigated and resolved in 2008 and 2010 when the original complaints were filed. The Department welcomes the review by the New Albany Police Merit Commission.”
NAPD Sgt. John Hall, president of the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge No. 99, attended the merit council meeting Thursday, but said after the meeting the union is not representing Schook, at this time, as she has sought private counsel.
“We are monitoring everything that is going on,” Hall said of Schook’s grievances. “Some of the stuff, I have been ordered by the chief [Knight] not to talk about, other than we have not been asked for representation by officer Schook.”
Hall said he would have to defer questions related to Schook’s claims to her or Knight because he can not discuss personnel matters.
Attempts made Friday by the News and Tribune to contact Knight and Gahan were unsuccessful. Phone calls placed to Humphrey at work and at his restaurant Thursday were not returned. A call to Tucker at work Friday was not returned.