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NIU police lieutenant back on paid leave

Published: Friday, Sept. 20, 2013 5:30 a.m. CDT

DeKALB – Northern Illinois University’s former police chief didn’t reprimand his third-in-command for mishandling evidence until 7 p.m. Nov. 9.

That was hours after then-NIU President John Peters put administrator Bill Nicklas in charge of the NIU police department and then-Chief Don Grady, but before Grady met with his new boss for the first time, records show. It was also the same day that Peters called for an investigation of Grady, Lt. Kartik Ramakrishnan, how they handled a rape case involving their own officer, and the department in general.

Now, Grady’s written reprimand, which is more serious than a verbal reprimand but less serious than suspension or termination, is at the heart of an ongoing legal battle over whether Ramakrishnan should be allowed to keep his $92,000-a-year job.

A state hearing officer suggested Grady wrote up his subordinate after the fact to shield himself, but a state regulatory panel has ruled that the write-up means Ramakrishnan cannot also be fired for his mistake. Ramakrishnan could be entitled to more than $38,000 in back pay.

For now, Ramakrishnan is on paid leave as NIU officials decide if they will appeal the State Universities Civil Service Merit Board decision in DeKalb County Circuit Court. The merit board issued a written ruling this week siding with Ramakrishnan.

“We have received the written order and the general counsel’s office is examining that document to determine the university’s response,” NIU spokesman Paul Palian said.

Grady was fired Feb. 19, and Ramakrishnan was notified of the university’s intent to fire him. Ramakrishnan later was removed from the university payroll in April.

Disciplinary action against both leaders stemmed from statements from two NIU students who talked with them about a rape case pending against former NIU police officer Andrew Rifkin, 25, now of Northbrook. A woman claimed Rifkin raped her in his Cortland apartment while he was off-duty Oct. 14, 2011, and reported the incident about two weeks later.

After Rifkin was charged, two of the victim’s friends told Grady and Ramakrishnan that they believed the encounter was consensual based on what the alleged victim told them and how the alleged victim acted when Rifkin stopped returning her text messages and was seen with other women. Ramakrishnan took statements from the two women but placed them in Rifkin’s internal personnel file rather than giving them to prosecutors.

DeKalb County Presiding Judge Robbin Stuckert ruled Nov. 2 that NIU police intentionally withheld the evidence favorable to Rifkin from prosecutors, and a week later, ruled that jurors could learn about police officers’ actions if the case went to trial. Then-State’s Attorney Clay Campbell dropped the charge against Rifkin; the charge was later reinstated by State’s Attorney Richard Schmack, who defeated Campbell in November’s election.

Rifkin’s case, as well as Stuckert’s ruling about the department mishandling evidence, was reported in local and regional media. Grady reprimanded Ramakrishnan for neglect of duty, conduct unbecoming of a member of the department and conduct tending to cause disrepute to the department.

But the merit board found that firing Ramakrishnan for the same reasons Grady reprimanded him constituted “institutional double jeopardy,” Ramakrishnan’s attorney, Howard Levine said. The 11-member board voted Sept. 10 after Elizabeth Simon, a hearing officer, summarized her findings from a two-day hearing in June.

Simon charted how Ramakrishnan’s explanations varied from the Nov. 2 hearing before Stuckert, to a university hearing and to the hearing before her. For example, Ramakrishnan told Stuckert he thought everything was in the file turned over to prosecutors, while he later said he intentionally didn’t include the statements in the criminal files because Grady told him they didn’t contain anything “probative.” At the most recent hearing, he said he should have read the written statements more closely.

Simon also questioned the timing and intent of Grady’s reprimand.

“The self-serving statements in the disciplinary notice appear designed more to extricate Chief Grady from responsibility than to address the issues in the notice,” Simon wrote. “Also curious is the absence of any investigation into the impact of the lieutenant’s actions on the department, given the events that had occurred after Oct. 29.”

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