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NIU puts deputy chief on paid leave, settles dispute with lieutenant

Published: Wednesday, Feb. 19, 2014 2:06 p.m. CDT • Updated: Wednesday, Feb. 19, 2014 8:51 p.m. CDT

DeKALB – Northern Illinois University put its deputy police chief on paid leave this week and requested a state police investigation as it continues to pay another police administrator on leave over the department’s previous scandal.

NIU Deputy Police Chief Darren Mitchell, who served as interim police chief after former Chief Donald Grady was fired over evidence mishandling, was placed on paid leave Monday, said Bill Nicklas, NIU’s vice president of public safety and community relations. Nicklas declined Wednesday to elaborate on the decision or the pending state police investigation.

“The person in question certainly has rights for due process,” Nicklas said. “We won’t discuss the nature of this until we know more.”

The move comes about two months after NIU officials agreed to pay NIU Lt. Kartik Ramakrishnan through Nov. 30 without him working. Ramakrishnan’s annual salary is $92,000, while Mitchell’s is about $140,000.

The agreement ended a legal dispute over NIU’s efforts to fire Ramakrishnan for mishandling witness statements in the sexual assault case against former NIU officer Andrew Rifkin. Rifkin has repeatedly denied the allegations against him; his case is next due in court March 24.

Ramakrishnan had successfully appealed NIU’s decision to fire him; NIU was appealing the State Universities Civil Service System Merit Board decision reinstating Ramakrishnan in DeKalb County Circuit Court. That appeal was dropped Jan. 7.

Under the agreement signed in December, Ramakrishnan will not be allowed to seek future employment with NIU, and NIU agreed to pay him $25,000 in December to help him obtain career counseling or other assistance. The Daily Chronicle obtained the separation agreement Wednesday through a Freedom of Information Act request.

Ramakrishnan’s attorney Howard Levine did not return a call for comment Wednesday.

NIU officials have struggled for months to overcome the publicity surrounding Grady’s firing and the FBI raid on NIU’s police station in March. Nicklas previously said the FBI, along with the state police and the U.S. Department of Education, were interested in Grady and the reporting of crime statistics during his tenure, among other things.

NIU Police Chief Tom Phillips was named NIU’s permanent chief in August, and Mitchell became the deputy chief. Mitchell did not apply for the permanent chief position, but during his tenure as interim chief, NIU’s force joined the DeKalb County Major Case Squad, rolled out a new operations manual and strengthened cooperation with DeKalb police.

Michael Fox, Grady’s attorney, said he was happy about Ramakrishnan’s agreement, saying the allegations were “very damaging to his career.” However, Fox said his client wasn’t granted the same constitutional rights as Ramakrishnan because Grady was denied a hearing in June after his termination.

Fox questioned why NIU officials are being tight-lipped about why Mitchell was put on paid leave.

“They were all over Grady’s termination and said Mitchell has due process; I couldn’t agree with them more,” Fox said. “Where was that due process with [former] Chief Grady? That’s what will be challenged.”

Fox said he plans to file a 35-page complaint in a civil rights lawsuit in federal court within the next week.

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