A special prosecutor was appointed last week in Sheridan County to review how State Patrol members handled the aftermath of a fatal car wreck involving a patrol vehicle.
District Judge Travis O’Gorman appointed former U.S. Attorney for Nebraska Joe Stecher, who will look into any potential criminal wrongdoing that occurred in Sheridan County by Nebraska State Patrol officials. He will examine how they handled the investigation of a 2016 tactical vehicle intervention of a fleeing car that resulted in the death of the driver.
Sheridan County Attorney Jamian Simmons said she had inquiries from Omaha Sen. Burke Harr and media about whether there would be a subsequent investigation regarding how the incident was handled by the patrol, and whether information was improperly presented to a grand jury looking into the fatal crash. The grand jury found no wrongdoing by the trooper involved in the crash.
“I just felt like it probably would be safest to have it looked at by an outside, independent prosecutor just to cover all the bases and make sure there weren’t any outstanding issues,” Simmons said.
Harr sent a letter to Simmons in September asking her to review and investigate the claims of serious misconduct by former patrol Superintendent Brad Rice in connection with the management of the fatal crash and any subsequent internal affairs investigations.
Simmons declared a conflict of interest because of the potential she could be called as a witness or otherwise disqualified from the investigation, and requested a special prosecutor.
Named on the order appointing the special prosecutor were four patrol employees stationed in the area -- Timothy Flick, Jamey Balthazor, Travis Wallace and Kevin Waugh -- who were suspended during a review of the patrol. The review was requested by Gov. Pete Ricketts and conducted by Jason Jackson, state chief human resources officer.
Before it was complete, Ricketts fired Rice, saying the review uncovered interference in internal investigations at the highest level.
The Associated Press reported that Stecher, who practices in Harrison, said Wednesday he was not aware of anything that would lead him to believe charges will be filed against any of the four patrol members named in court documents. None have been accused of any specific crime.
Ricketts has said he had turned over information from the review to the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Harr sent a letter to Special Agent Randall Thysse of the Omaha office of the FBI asking him to confirm any such investigation. Thysse replied the FBI generally does not comment on the status or existence of investigations.
Harr said Ricketts knows something the public doesn’t know because he fired Rice, and has left six troopers on paid administrative leave for three months.
“As taxpayers we have a right to know why the governor decided to do what he did,” Harr said. “There are cases being dismissed in counties because these officers can’t come and testify.”