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June 8, 2014

Sources: Union took vote over former New Albany chief

Gahan, union mum about no confidence ballot

NEW ALBANY — While many city officials aren’t talking about what happened, those who are indicated a union vote of no confidence in former New Albany Police Department Chief Sherri Knight preceded her decision to step down from the position last month.

According to Mayor Jeff Gahan’s administration, Knight submitted a request to be reassigned May 20. A letter written by Knight — who was the first female NAPD chief — detailing her desire to be reassigned was released to the media, but she never publicly addressed the issue.

A message left Friday morning for Knight — who was reassigned to the NAPD Detective’s Division — seeking comment for this story hadn’t been returned as of press time.

Though he was asked several times by the media during a news conference if he requested Knight’s reassignment letter, Gahan didn’t directly answer the question. Instead, he said multiple times that Knight had submitted a letter asking to be reassigned, and that he accepted her request.

Multiple messages left for Gahan directly and through administration officials Thursday and Friday seeking comment for this story hadn’t been returned as of press time.

The News and Tribune has contacted several city and police officials since Knight resigned her position seeking an explanation, and the majority have declined to comment on the record.

But when asked about the issue, New Albany City Councilman Dan Coffey told the News and Tribune that the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge No. 99 cast a vote of no confidence in Knight just a few days before the announcement that she was being reassigned was made.

According to Coffey, who said he was informed about the vote by a police officer who was present when the ballots were cast, the FOP approved the no confidence measure by a 12-10 vote.

“I was also told by a number of police officers that they were not in favor of having a vote over such an issue,” Coffey said.

He went on to add that some of the officers and union members who supported Knight weren’t present for the vote.

WHY NO CONFIDENCE?

The reasons why the FOP may have cast the vote of no confidence were unclear as of press time.

Councilman John Gonder confirmed he’d heard the FOP cast the vote, but added he had not been told about the ballot directly by a police officer.

“I don’t know that it’s true or that it’s not true,” Gonder said.

New Albany FOP President John Hall said he would not confirm or deny if such a vote took place.

“We normally make a practice of not discussing what is discussed during our union meetings publicly without the direction of the lodge,” he said Friday.

In March, NAPD patrol officer Laura Schook requested the New Albany Police Merit Commission take action on a list of complaints she brought to its attention. In 2010, when Knight was a major in the department and her supervisor, Schook reported allegations that fellow officers were padding their time sheets by working for their private business while on police duty.

Instead of addressing the issue, Schook claimed that Knight told the officers about her complaints, and that she was subsequently denied promotions and at times left without backup while responding to calls.

The city has asked the Indiana State Police to investigate the matter. However, it doesn’t appear the union is directly involved with the case.

When Schook and her attorney announced May 8 they would seek a $500,000 tort claim against the city, Hall told the News and Tribune the union wasn’t representing her because she had sought private counsel.

Issues surrounding the conduct of NAPD Detective Gary Humphrey have also come to light in recent weeks, as he was involved in an incident involving a physical altercation with a woman in December at The Grand. In a separate case, a grand jury returned a no true bill verdict — which means it brought no charges — for Humphrey regarding an April 28 incident at a residence connected to Bed and Breakfast in New Albany.

Humphrey was also once of the officers Schook alleged was working for his own business, River City Winery, while on the police clock.

Gahan replaced Knight with Todd Bailey, who also served as police chief from October 2010 until Gahan took office in 2012. Bailey didn’t return a call Friday morning seeking comment for this story.

During a special meeting held Friday afternoon, the merit commission didn’t take action on Schook’s claims, but acknowledged the city’s decision to have ISP investigators look into the matter. Just before the conclusion of the meeting, Bailey said he had a matter to take care of, and left before dismissal.

Knight was not discussed during the meeting.

COFFEY SUPPORTIVE OF KNIGHT

He was once a strong critic of how the department was managed, but Coffey said he was encouraged with the job Knight was doing as police chief.

She kept the department within budget and didn’t engage in “political double talk”, Coffey said.

“I do know that any information the council asked for from her, we got it,” he said. “I have nothing but respect for her.”

Coffey added that the NAPD has great police officers who risk their own safety for the community. But the administration, merit commission and NAPD need to allow the ISP to investigate Schook’s claims and any other issues in the department autonomous from city control, he continued.

Such an investigation would boost public confidence and trust in the department, Coffey said.

Attempts to reach Council President Pat McLaughlin and Councilwoman Diane McCartin-Benedetti for comment for this story were unsuccessful as of press time.

 

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