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Friday, April 20, 2012

Cop Suspended for Role in Political Battle

Scranton cop suspended for role in political battle
The Times-Tribune by Borys Krawczeniuk - April 19, 2012

Scranton, PA - A city police officer was suspended for two days without pay in the last week for violating police procedures by getting improperly mixed up in the primary election race between state Rep. Kevin Murphy and challenger Marty Flynn. Police Chief Dan Duffy declined to name the suspended officer, citing the city's contract with its police union. He said the officer violated procedure by releasing incident report numbers that surfaced in a Right to Know Law request by attorney Christopher P. Cullen. Mr. Cullen's open-records request seeks police incident reports involving Mr. Flynn. The presence of the numbers in the request tipped off Chief Duffy to the violation, he said. Incident report numbers are an internal control used by the Police Department and are inaccessible to anyone outside the department, the chief said. "Our agency has internal checks and balances and in this particular case our internal checks and balances worked," Chief Duffy said. The suspension and the events that led up to it come in the midst of a heated race between Mr. Murphy, a former ally of Mayor Chris Doherty, and Mr. Flynn, whose late uncle, Matthew Flynn, was a close political ally of the mayor. Mr. Cullen was Mr. Murphy's lawyer during previous election campaigns, but Mr. Murphy disavowed any knowledge of Mr. Cullen's request. He said the attorney no longer represents him and does not work for his campaign. "He's acting on his own and whatever he's doing is not part of the campaign," Mr. Murphy said. "It was not run by me. I didn't even know what he's doing." Mr. Cullen confirmed Mr. Murphy is no longer his client and declined to answer when asked if he filed the Right to Know Law request to help Mr. Murphy. He would not say how he obtained the incident report numbers. He said courts have ruled that he is not required to explain why he wants public records. "So that's what I stand by," he said. Mr. Flynn called Mr. Cullen's open records request "the dirty, rotten, pond scum part of politics." Chief Duffy said the department would not release copies of the incident reports to Mr. Cullen because they are confidential under the state Right to Know Law, but he released them to Mr. Flynn, who allowed The Times-Tribune to make copies. The chief said Mr. Flynn was entitled to them because his name was mentioned in them and none of the reports relate to ongoing criminal investigations. Otherwise, incident reports must remain confidential or members of the public who spot crimes or wrongdoing might become fearful about reporting them, he said.

The reports relate to 13 incidents in which Mr. Flynn or the bar he once owned were somehow involved, sometimes in limited ways. They happened between 2003 and 2009. Only one incident led to charges against Mr. Flynn. It was over a Nov. 29, 2009, altercation outside the Green Frog, a tavern on Mulberry Street in the city's Hill Section. In that case, police actually charged Mr. Flynn with simple assault, harassment and disorderly conduct for engaging in a fight. The charges against Mr. Flynn were dismissed after a preliminary hearing in Central Court. Mr. Flynn, a former boxer, said he was charged after breaking up a fight between his cousin and another man. "He was beating my cousin up and I stopped a kid from beating my cousin up," Mr. Flynn said. "That was it. ...There was two of them and they were scrapping and I was just watching and the guy had my cousin on the ground and started banging his head off the curb in front of the Green Frog. And at that point, it wasn't a fair fight any more. ...I pulled him off." The incident report says Mr. Flynn punched a man after the man engaged in an argument with Mr. Flynn's cousins. The man, who said he was punched after the argument was over, fell to the ground and then Mr. Flynn kicked him in the face, according to the report. The man suffered cuts and swelling on his face. Eight of the remaining complaints related to Legends, the West Scranton bar Mr. Flynn owned until selling it a couple of years ago. The complaints centered on loud music, public urination, fights and assaults. Mr. Flynn was not a participant in the fights or assaults. Two incidents had to do with threatened suicides, one by a roommate of Mr. Flynn's, the other by someone he knew. In another, a stereo was stolen from Mr. Flynn's pickup truck. In the other, a former girlfriend stole expensive watches from Mr. Flynn. Before obtaining the reports, Mr. Flynn claimed he knew nothing of 11 of the 13 incidents, but he knew that the police officer had been suspended. Mr. Flynn said he could not remember who told him that. "I heard that on the street," he said. "It might have been a cop." Mr. Murphy denied knowing anything about how the numbers were passed and questioned whether Mr. Flynn's account is credible or reliable. "I don't (care) about the incident reports," Mr. Murphy said. "I'm going to crush this kid (in the election)."

Mr. Cullen said he was astonished that Mr. Flynn knew about the internal discipline of a police officer. "That tells you that there's been a violation of the personnel confidentiality within the police department," he said. Mr. Flynn denied either Mr. Doherty or Chief Duffy told him about the discipline. Chief Duffy and Mr. Doherty denied telling Mr. Flynn. "That's not something that I would broadcast," Chief Duffy said. But Mr. Cullen charged Lt. Leonard Namiotka, the police records officer, denied him access to the incident reports because the mayor is supporting Mr. Flynn. "He (Lt. Namiotka) tells me that the secretary was processing that request, but he walked by the printer, started reading the reports, and when he realized whose name was featured in the reports, that's when he said, 'Whoa, wait a minute'," Mr. Cullen said. "The issue is why can't I get copies of these police incident reports and why is the city using its political power to suppress these reports." Lt. Namiotka declined to comment. Mr. Cullen said he has appealed the denial of his request to the state Office of Open Records. The office has agreed to consider the request, a spokesman said. Mr. Doherty said he has nothing to do with decisions related to Right to Know Law requests. He acknowledged his ties to the Flynn family, but denied the department is preventing the release of the reports to prevent damage to Mr. Flynn's election chances. Neither he nor his campaign team is playing a role in Mr. Flynn's campaign because state representatives have little influence over what happens to cities, he said. Chief Duffy said he is angry because the department finds itself playing an unwilling part in a political battle. "What's happening here is they're trying to involve the police department in some type of political matter. I want no involvement in politics whatsoever. I personally don't care who wins the election. I'm more concerned about the integrity of this organization, which now takes a shot," he said. "We, the police department, never wanted any involvement in this." Contact the writer:

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