A 15-week investigation into two 2016 Nebraska State Patrol incidents has resulted in a firing, a retirement, a resignation and disciplinary action against four others.
State Patrol Col. John Bolduc, who was hired in October to replace Col. Brad Rice, announced the actions Wednesday afternoon at a news conference. The disciplinary actions stemmed from conduct following two incidents last year involving a tactical vehicle intervention and excessive use of force by troopers.
In June, Gov. Pete Ricketts fired Rice for inappropriately interfering with internal affairs investigations and suspended six others in the agency. The action came after a review of the State Patrol by Chief Human Resources Officer Jason Jackson.
The patrol investigation was to determine if employees violated policies of the agency, Bolduc said, whether leaders were derelict in their duties in the aftermath and whether troopers accurately and honestly reported their conduct.
Bolduc would not name the troopers who were disciplined or left the patrol’s employment, saying they had not waived confidentiality.
But the trooper who was fired was Tim Flick, according to the State Troopers Association of Nebraska. In October 2016, Flick was involved in the pursuit of a car that had run a stop sign on a county road north of Gordon in Sheridan County. His patrol car intercepted the vehicle, which crashed into a ditch and rolled, and the driver, Antoine L. Ladeaux, 32, of Pine Ridge, South Dakota, was ejected and died at the scene.
A grand jury found no wrongdoing by Flick. District Judge Travis O’Gorman has since appointed former U.S. Attorney for Nebraska Joe Stecher, who will look into any potential criminal wrongdoing that occurred regarding how the investigation of the incident was handled.
In addition to Flick’s termination, a sergeant resigned and a lieutenant colonel retired, Bolduc said. At any time during the process, anyone can elect to resign or retire if they are eligible, but he wouldn’t say whether they would have been fired if they had not decided to leave.
Also, two officers were demoted: a major reduced in rank to captain and a captain to sergeant. A trooper and sergeant received administrative penalties.
Sgt. Travis Wallace, a patrol investigator, was disciplined but would keep his current position. According to the state troopers union, Wallace was called to the scene of the crash involving Flick to do an accident reconstruction investigation.
Others besides Flick and Wallace who were suspended with pay by Ricketts at the time of Rice’s firing, and have previously been named, were Capt. Jamey Balthazor, Sgt. Kevin Waugh, Maj. Mike Gaudreault and Lt. Col. Thomas Schwarten. A seventh trooper was since brought into the investigation but not named.
The trooper involved in the excessive force incident, Lindsey Bixby, who was seen on a widely distributed internet video hitting a drunk driver last year with the butt of his rifle, resigned in June. He was not included in the action announced Wednesday.
The state troopers association sent out a news release Wednesday saying Flick is an “honorable trooper” who has served the state with dedication and valor for more than two decades, “including being shot multiple times while placing himself in harm’s way to protect the citizens of Nebraska.”
Flick’s actions were thoroughly reviewed by multiple law enforcement officials and found to be within law and policy, the union said.
“(The union) is in complete support of Trooper Flick, and it will not rest until this unjust offense against his reputation is reversed in arbitration,” the news release said.
The union said Wallace was disciplined for technical policy violations and has accepted responsibility. It will fully support his decision on whether to appeal the amount of discipline, the union said.
Bolduc said the State Patrol is not a troubled agency, but one of integrity.
He emphasized he believed those who were disciplined or left are good people who made mistakes. Among them are veteran troopers who have had decorated and accomplished careers, have even been heroes in their communities.
“However, even good people make mistakes,” he said. “And some mistakes have serious consequences.”
The investigations were thorough, consuming 1,300 hours of work over a total of 15 weeks, including 177 hours of interviews, Bolduc said.
The incidents at the center of the investigation were two out of more than 216,000 handled last year.
“Public trust and accountability are paramount in our ability to serve the public,” Bolduc said.
He believed some troopers would be disappointed in some or all of the discipline meted out by the agency to the seven men.
“I know how they feel,” he said. “I’m a cop, just like you. I want you to know I have your back. But having your back isn’t a blank check for every error. ... Unfortunately, there are some mistakes that just can’t be tolerated.”
Bolduc said the state patrol is cooperating with probes by other agencies, including the FBI.
Omaha Sen. Burke Harr, who has pushed for criminal investigations and more information on the incidents and aftermath being made public, said the agency needs to let the public know more about why the troopers and administrators were fired or disciplined, and whether anyone committed crimes.
It sounds as if there was abuse of power within the patrol, he said.
“And when there’s an abuse of power, I think the public has a right to know what happened so that we know we can trust our law enforcement ... even if it’s something as simple as filing a false report,” he said.
The vast majority of troopers are great men and women and they sacrifice every day, he said.
Bolduc said the patrol is looking at ways to improve some of its policies and procedures.
The Legislature’s Judiciary Committee Chairwoman Laura Ebke filed public-records requests last month to get information on patrol actions that could potentially be violations of law or prompt legislation. She has received hundreds of pages of documents and emails from Ricketts’ office, Attorney General Doug Peterson, the patrol, the courts and the Department of Administrative Services.
The Legislature will try to ensure the state does not have future conflicts of interest with the attorney general regarding such investigations and suspensions, and make a run at other changes in policy and procedures as needed.
“The administration has already brought us some ideas for things that they’d like to have accomplished,” Ebke said.