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NIU hires former Colorado State University police chief

Dexter Yarbrough resigned top cop post after investigations

One of the newest police officers at Northern Illinois University is the former top cop at Colorado State University who resigned earlier this year after two investigations into his conduct.

Dexter Yarbrough began working as a police officer at NIU on June 29, according to campus officials. He resigned in March as chief of police and associate vice president for public safety at Colorado State in Fort Collins after a three-month internal personnel investigation. He also had been the subject of an earlier investigation in 2008 regarding statements about the nature of police work he reportedly made while teaching a class at CSU.

Yarbrough declined to comment for this article.

"I have dealt with the issues you want to discuss in the past," he said in a written statement. "I choose not to discuss them any further. Thank you for respecting my decision in this matter."

NIU Police Chief Donald Grady defended the hire, saying Yarbrough passed a flurry of requirements, tests and background checks and was clearly the best candidate for the job.

“He has no arrest record, no criminal history, no traffic violations,” Grady wrote in a July 2 e-mail to the Daily Chronicle. “He is well-spoken, articulate, empathic and reverent of different races and cultures. He talks of sharing the vision and ideologies espoused by this department and practices that are reflective of sound, rational and compassionate policing. His background revealed no verifiable or substantiated disqualifying factors.”

CSU officials would confirm only that Yarbrough had been the subject of a personnel investigation, and a Colorado state police agency that assisted in the recent internal inquiry referred calls to the university.

But media outlets in Colorado found, through open records requests, that Yarbrough was put on administrative leave in December 2008 nine days after a sexual harassment complaint was filed against him by a subordinate.

No criminal charges were filed in Colorado against Yarbrough. NIU investigated the allegations made in Colorado them to separate fact from fiction, said Steve Cunningham, associate vice president for Administration and Human Resources at NIU.

The investigation included direct contact with people in Colorado. NIU officials found there was "no basis in fact" to deny employment to Yarbrough.

"That's following an extensive review of those matters, which was undertaken by the Public Safety Department," Cunningham said. "... No such information was found that would cause there to be any limitations to hiring him. This particular candidate possessed all of the qualifications easily for the position of police officer."

Allegations made

Yabrough had connections to Illinois prior to arriving at NIU: He worked for the Chicago Police Department for years and also was a member of the Board of Trustees for Western Illinois University from 1995-2001. He became chief of police for the University of Wisconsin-Parkside in Kenosha in September 2000 and headed to Fort Collins in August 2003, according to a CSU spokeswoman.

But his tenure in Colorado was marked by at least two internal personnel investigations into his conduct, according to CSU officials.

The school undertook an internal investigation in early 2008 after a student taking a class taught by Yarbrough provided recordings of Yarbrough's lectures in which he appeared to tell students that police sometimes need to break the law to catch criminals, according to the March 17, 2009, edition of the Coloradoan, a daily newspaper in Fort Collins.

Attempts to reach the student who made the recordings were unsuccessful.

CSU spokesman Brad Bohlander said he he did not know whether the investigation stemmed from the recordings. Any decisions, actions or outcomes, if they were taken, are part of Yarbrough's personnel record and cannot be released under Colorado law, he said.

The second investigation was prompted by a sexual harassment complaint filed Dec. 10, 2008, by a subordinate of Yarbrough's to the school's Equal Opportunity and Diversity Office, according to the March 17 Coloradoan.

Yarbrough was put on paid administrative leave Dec. 19, CSU spokeswoman Dell Rae Moellenberg wrote in an e-mail to the Daily Chronicle, while the claims were investigated by a three-member team that included two university officials and a member of the Colorado Bureau of Investigation.

CBI spokesman Lance Clem said his agency was asked by the Fort Collins Police Department to take part in the investigation. An agreement between the agency and CSU permits only the university to release the findings of that investigation, Clem said. Bohlander said that decision was made because CSU led the investigation, and to keep any information released about it consistent.

In a March 6 written statement, CSU President Tony Frank said that upon completion of that investigation, he and Yarbrough agreed that his "resignation is in the best interest of the Colorado State University Police Department and the university."

The findings of the investigation have not been released because they are part of a personnel file, Bohlander said, and are confidential under Colorado law.

But the university confirmed the investigation included sexual harassment allegations in a March letter to the Coloradoan, which had asked for the findings of the investigation through open records requests. In that letter, university attorneys said they did not have to release records of the investigation because they were exempt under Colorado law because they included the sexual harassment allegations, according to the March 17 edition of the Coloradoan.

New employment

Yarbrough was one of about 180 candidates to apply for the open police officer position at NIU, which was advertised in the spring.

Applicants for police officer positions at NIU must take a written test, Cunningham said. Candidates who receive the highest scores, have the necessary qualifications and pass various other background checks are interviewed by a search panel and then administrators from the Public Safety Department, Cunningham said.

Applicants also must pass physical fitness and oral examinations, as well as criminal background investigations, psychological exams and drug screenings, according to the job description. Applicants must be at least 21, have a high school diploma or equivalency degree and have no significant criminal record, according to the job description.

The Public Safety Department selects whom to hire, Cunningham said. Yarbrough's salary at NIU is $24.46 an hour, Cunningham said, which is the starting rate for all new campus police officers. That works out to about $51,000 a year, without overtime. He was making $157,300 annually while at Colorado State, according to a CSU spokeswoman.

In his e-mail to the Daily Chronicle, Grady said the interviews for officer position also include a one-on-one interview with an NIU Police administrator and a qualification and suitability review by senior NIU administrators.

Candidates are evaluated on, among other things, education, experience, certifications, veteran status and knowledge base, Grady said.

A background check was conducted on Yabrough, Grady said. Background checks of police officer candidates include educational history, employment history, military history, personal references, credit histories, criminal histories, traffic histories and arrest record checks in each state and community in which the candidate has lived, Grady said.

Grady, who met Yarbrough seven years ago while Yarbrough was at UW-Parkside, said he was aware of the allegations made against his newest officer. He called Yarbrough "exceptionally well qualified," saying he had excellent employment and personal references, noted he has a master's degree and is working on a doctorate, and has more than 20 years of police service, eight of which have been as a police chief.

Yarbrough also has experience in emergency management administration and out-performed every other candidate in every facet of the hiring process, Grady said. Yarbrough also was recommended by an external evaluator, Grady said.

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