Smyrna police chief probe findings to be kept private

 

SMYRNA — The year-plus wait to learn more about strife within the Smyrna Police Department continues, but may at least be nearing a conclusion.

Results of a $20,000 taxpayer-funded investigation into allegations against Smyrna Police Chief Norman E. Wood are not available to the public, according to a state of Delaware ruling earlier this month.

On Thursday, however, town leaders pledged to inform the public on their response to the report received in mid-September once it is fully digested.

“Town Council has engaged in preliminary discussions regarding the findings of the report but is still in the process of evaluating the recommendations set forth in the report,” attorney Laura Link said in a prepared statement.

The Smyrna Mayor and Town Council agreed last summer to hire a private company to examine claims made by municipal police officers in a letter of no confidence sent July 18, 2016.

While the town indicated in a letter on Sept. 19 it would discuss findings with Smyrna Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 22, President Cpl. Brandon Dunning said Thursday there’s been no communication so far.

The AG’s Office earlier determined there was insufficient evidence to warrant a criminal prosecution of Chief Wood, but recommended that mayor and council scrutinize the allegations. With advice from legal counsel, the town voted to authorize an independent investigation on June 19, 2017.

On Aug. 28, 2017, FOP Lodge 22 filed a Freedom of Information Act request with the town requesting any records or reports pertaining to the investigation by Protocol Security Partners based in Blackwood, New Jersey, which was denied.

The police union then appealed to the Delaware Attorney General’s Office on Sept. 25, and the town provided a response on Sept. 28. The AG upheld the town’s decision to not provide any records on Oct. 13.

The town maintained that Protocol’s findings were subject to attorney-client privilege and thus protected, which the AG affirmed.

According to the AG, Mayor John Embert III received the report from the town’s legal counsel on Sept. 15. Legal counsel had worked with Protocol Security Partners to prepare and deliver the report to the town, authorities said.

“To the best of the Mayor’s knowledge, neither he nor the Council members communicated with Protocol Security Partners regarding the findings contained in the Report,” Deputy Attorney General Kenisha L. Ringgold wrote in the opinion.

Council members did not receive the report before Sept. 15, the AG said.

“Based upon the sworn statements and the parties’ submissions, in our evaluation of the circumstances incident to the creation and delivery of the Report, we find the Town has met their burden to establish that the Report is exempted from public disclosure under any work product doctrine pursuant to (Delaware Code),” Ms. Ringgold explained.

On Sept. 19, town attorney D. Barrett Edwards IV sent a letter to Cpl. Dunning and provided FOP requested invoices showing itemized payments made to Protocol.

Although elected officials were not required to reveal the investigation’s findings, Mr. Edwards said it was his “understanding that Town Council intends to speak with the FOP regarding the results of the Protocol Security Partners investigation.

“More information will be forthcoming in the near future regarding how and when this will occur.”

Attempts to reach Mayor Embert Thursday were unsuccessful and Chief Wood declined comment, along with Cpl. Dunning,

When contacted for an update Thursday, Mr. Edwards referred the response to Ms. Link of Archer & Greiner of Haddonfield, New Jersey.

Detailed costs

Protocol Security Partners sent the town a detailed $20,000 invoice for services provided on June 27. The cost for time spent investigating was $125 per hour and covered 160 hours of work. The breakdown included:

• Meeting with counsel for Town of Smyrna, two hours, on June 26, $250.

• Organizational planning meeting with colleague, four hours, on June 30, $500.

• Research/public document review regarding Smyrna PD, two hours, on July 2, $250.

• Telephone contact with all subjects to be interviewed, schedule developed, overview of engagement provided, four hours, on July 6, $500.

• Smyrna PD staff interviews, 16 hours (two consultants), on July 10, $2,000.

• Smyrna PD staff interviews, 20 hours (two consultants), on July 11, $2,500.

• Smyrna PD staff interviews, 14 hours (two consultants), on July 12, $1,750.

• Smyrna PD, staff and council interviews, 18 hours (two consultants) on July 18, $2,250.

• Chief Wood and all staff interviews, 12 hours (two consultants) on July 19, $1,500

• Smyrna PD interviews, six hours (one consultant), on July 20, $750.

• Consultants meeting to summarize and prepare all interviews, 16 hours (two consultants) on July 26, $2,000.

• Preparation of initial report (draft), 30 hours, on Aug. 1-4, $3,750.

• Administrative costs, preparation of all interviews and consultants report, $2,000.

Reach staff writer Craig Anderson at canderson@newszap.com

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