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With acting chief in place, NIU assessing police force

Darren Mitchell was appointed acting police chief on Sunday.
Darren Mitchell was appointed acting police chief on Sunday.

DeKALB – The Monday morning meeting at the Northern Illinois University Police Department had a different look to it.

For the first time as the acting director of the NIU Police Department and Public Safety, Bill Nicklas met with officers along with the newly appointed acting police chief, Darren Mitchell, to begin an assessment of department procedures and policies in the wake of mishandled evidence.

Although Nicklas has no background in law enforcement, he said he was well-received by officers and police administrators and confident the department could address “concerning” issues that led Nicklas to place Chief Donald Grady and Lt. Kartik Ramakrishnan on paid administrative leave last week.

“We’re off to a good start in the right direction,” Nicklas said. “At this point, I’m gathering information. ... What I saw [Monday] morning was positive.”

One of Nicklas’ first decisions was to promote Mitchell to acting chief Sunday. Mitchell, who has been with the department since 2000, most recently served as deputy chief of police and executive director of the Office of Emergency Management and Planning at NIU.

He earned a $135,251 annual salary as deputy chief and will receive an adjustment with his additional duties as acting chief, NIU spokesman Paul Palian said.

Mitchell will assist Nicklas with an audit of the management, procedures, policies, protocol and personnel in the department. Nicklas said no personnel decisions would be made until after the audit is complete.

News of the changes to top ­administrative positions in the police department was welcomed by the NIU Student Association Senate, which Nicklas briefed on the developments Sunday night.

Austin M.D. Quick, speaker of the student association senate, said he thought the university made the right choice in selecting Nicklas to lead the police department and hopes Mitchell will establish a better relationship with students than his predecessor.

“[The Nicklas] appointment is already a step in the right direction,” Quick said. “He is truly someone who is concerned about the students.”

This is not the first time Grady has been placed on administrative leave. He was accused of misconduct in the fall of 2009 for allegedly intimidating actions toward a student journalist. He was later cleared of all charges by an outside panel.

Nicklas said he could not comment on past situations involving Grady, but said Grady was “certainly aware of the seriousness” of the recent rulings from DeKalb County Presiding Judge Robbin Stuckert.

On Nov. 2, Stuckert ruled NIU police intentionally withheld witness statements favorable to Andrew Rifkin, a former NIU police officer accused of raping a college student off campus. Rifkin’s attorney asked Stuckert to dismiss the sexual assault charge against the 24-year-old Northbrook man, who was fired Oct. 28, 2011, the same day the victim reported the incident to NIU police.

Stuckert declined to dismiss the charges, but ruled Friday jurors in the case – if the case goes to a jury trial – would hear how police mishandled the information.

Ramakrishnan, who university officials want to fire under civil service procedures, has said he mistakenly placed two witness statements in Rifkin’s personnel file, rather than giving them to prosecutors. Those witness statements show the victim told other NIU students that she had an ongoing consensual sexual relationship with Rifkin.

When Grady was asked in court whether he took disciplinary action against the officers involved, he said he had neither suspended nor fired them.

“I did talk to them,” Grady said in court Nov. 2. “Some people think that might be as stern as a termination.”

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