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Grady suggests race a factor in firing

Published: Thursday, Feb. 21, 2013 5:30 a.m. CDT

(Continued from Page 1)

DeKALB – Ousted Northern Illinois University Police Chief Donald Grady doesn’t believe evidence mishandled in a rape case was the only reason he was fired from his job.

In a Feb. 3 letter to NIU acting director of Public Safety Bill Nicklas, Grady said NIU officials treated him and Lt. Kartik Ramakrishnan differently than the white defendants in the coffee fund case. Grady is black, and Ramakrishnan is of Asian descent.

Grady pointed out that six of the eight employees charged with felonies in connection with that investigation are back at work.

“Despite the fact that many of them have been indicted by a grand jury, most have been allowed to return to their posts,” Grady wrote. “Not a single one of these employees has been subjected to the all-out effort to sever their relationship with the University that has been directed at me.”

Grady, 59, has been the NIU police chief for more than 11 years. He earned a salary of $205,987 at the time he was fired.

Nicklas said race was not a factor in any decision and the letter of termination contained all the reasons for the firing. Rather, Grady’s actions caused him and the NIU police to lose credibility, Nicklas said.

“It is not surprising Mr. Grady or his legal counsel would want to distract the observer from the facts,” Nicklas said. “But the facts were stated clearly in the letter of dismissal and the university stands by that letter.”

2 investigations into NIU employees

At issue are two separate investigations into university employees, both conducted by NIU police under Grady.

Criminal charges are pending against eight employees and one former employee after Grady began investigating the “coffee fund,” an off-the-books bank account where NIU employees deposited the proceeds from recycling university-owned scrap metal for their own use.

NIU police investigated the fund’s existence starting Aug. 3 and turned their findings over to the state’s attorney’s office Sept. 4, and the attorney general’s office Sept. 5. Criminal charges were filed Oct. 16.

Weeks later in an unrelated case, DeKalb County Judge Robbin Stuckert found NIU police had intentionally withheld witness statements favorable to an NIU police officer who was fired in October 2011 when a student alleged he raped her off-campus and off-duty.

Ramakrishnan testified he mistakenly placed the two witness statements in former officer Andrew Rifkin’s personnel file, rather than handing them over to prosecutors. Stuckert didn’t believe him, though, and ruled jurors would learn of the evidence mishandling if the case went to trial.

Grady testified that he took no disciplinary action against Ramakrishnan or anyone else in the incident.

The rape charge against Rifkin was later dropped and Rifkin filed a civil rights lawsuit against NIU, Grady, Ramakrishnan and other NIU police.

Grady and Ramakrishnan were placed on paid leave Nov. 10, eight days after Stuckert found the evidence mishandling was intentional. Ramakrishnan remains on leave, but he has been notified of the university’s intention to fire him.

One termination, one retirement

In his Feb. 3 letter, Grady compared his situation to that of Robert Albanese, who quit as associate vice president of the division of finance and facilities last summer amid allegations of misconduct. Albanese, Grady wrote, was not placed on administrative leave until university officials completed a two-and-a-half-month investigation. Albanese was also placed on leave with the agreement he would either resign or retire, according to the letter.

“Is racial discrimination at play here?” Grady asked in his letter. “If not, would you please provide me with the bona fide occupational qualifier that allows for the disparity in treatment demonstrated in this circumstance?”

On Feb. 1, Grady told Nicklas he was unaware of and didn’t participate in withholding evidence in the Rifkin case, but Nicklas didn’t believe him, according to Nicklas’ letter firing Grady.

“While I do not find your denials to be credible, even if true, at a minimum, your failure to supervise departmental personnel in this important case represents sufficient cause for dismissal,” Nicklas wrote.

Grady also should have recognized that allowing NIU police to investigate one of its own officers exposed the department to allegations of a conflict of interest, the letter states.

“Your credibility and the credibility of the department has been compromised to the extent the University believes termination is appropriate,” Nicklas wrote in the letter. “Put simply, your breach of contract has damaged irreparable the trust the must exist between the University and its Chief of Police.”

But Grady’s attorney, Michael Fox, said Nicklas had no basis for his findings.

“We asked [Nicklas] what evidence do you have that [Grady] knew? His answer was silence,” Fox said. “I think we’re entitled to something more than silence when you take the career of a man of chief Grady’s status away.”

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