Pubdate: Sat, 17 Aug 2002
Source: Wichita Eagle (KS)
Copyright: 2002 The Wichita Eagle
Author: Tim Potter


But District Judge Rebecca Pilshaw finds no pattern of unconstitutional 
searches by the Wichita Police Department.

In a closely watched ruling, a judge on Friday found serious misconduct but 
no pattern of constitutional violations by a special Wichita police team.

The finding came in a hearing on whether to suppress evidence the officers 
obtained on a suspected methamphetamine lab. District Judge Rebecca Pilshaw 
dismissed that evidence after finding the search unconstitutional.

And, in a sweeping statement, Pilshaw assailed the police internal 
investigation into allegations of officer misconduct. The investigation 
"lacked credibility," Pilshaw said, because one of the investigators was 
associated with the accused officers and because it did not include 
interviews with any of the people whose rights had allegedly been violated.

In the quiet courtroom -- crowded with top police officials, prosecutors, 
defense lawyers and the accused officers and their families -- Pilshaw gave 
the Police Department both warm compliments and harsh criticism.

She noted the accused officers are highly decorated members of a west- side 
crime-fighting unit known as SCAT -- Special Community Action Team. She 
credited them with "getting the baddest of the bad guys off the street."

But she faulted their tactics, saying they sometimes coerced people into 
giving consent to search or wrongfully looked through people's belongings.

She lauded the Police Department for taking it upon itself to initiate a 
report on the allegations.

"The Wichita Police Department is well able to police themselves," she said.

She said she was proud of Lt. Tom Spencer, the accused officers' former 
supervisor, for leading efforts to raise the allegations.

Spencer, who testified he has suffered retaliation from fellow officers and 
the department for raising concerns about the officers, had been accused in 
testimony of being a petty and vindictive manager.

Pilshaw criticized police union president Chester Pinkston for what she 
called "outrageous and inappropriate comments" when he said the internal 
investigation cleared the officers of all but minor policy violations.

Later, Pinkston defended his comments, saying "as the leader of this 
fraternal organization, not only did I feel I was well within my rights, I 
was obligated to support these officers that I feel were wrongly accused."

Police Chief Norman Williams said in a statement that the department 
"respects the court's decision."

"I appreciate Judge Pilshaw's dedication and diligence in dealing with this 
situation. It has been a stressful situation for those involved." Williams 
declined further comment.

During the eight-day hearing, Pilshaw examined 12 cases involving the 
officers over the past two years. She found clear constitutional violations 
or questionable actions in about half of the incidents. Charges were either 
never filed or were dismissed in those cases.

The cases involved three officers -- Sgt. John Bannister and officers Kevin 
Goebel and Michael Thode. A fourth officer, Andre Parker, was less of a 
focus of the allegations.

This past spring, the city legal staff issued an opinion finding serious, 
constitutional violations by the officers. But the ensuing internal 
investigation by police found only minor policy infractions.

Pilshaw said the evidence did not show a "pattern of willful, illegal" 
actions by the officers. But she singled out Goebel, saying he routinely 
ignored people who did not give consent to search and used coercive tactics.

She also complimented Goebel, saying he has a "fine police instinct" and is 

Pilshaw faulted Bannister's methods in trying to search an apartment for 
drugs. But she also gave praise, calling him a "rising star in the Police 
Department" and saying she considered him a top candidate for lieutenant.

She faulted Thode, saying he wrongly searched a purse. But she also noted 
that several years ago she presided over a trial where he was the victim -- 
he had been shot in the shoulder by a burglary suspect.

She also ruled that a search of a suspected meth lab was unconstitutional 
because Goebel and Thode opened a door without a search warrant to peer 
into the suspect's home.

The defendant, Terry Marck, was using the hearing to challenge the search 
of his home and his arrest. Pilshaw allowed Marck's lawyer, Kurt Kerns, to 
question whether the officers had committed a pattern of misconduct.

Pilshaw said she reluctantly ruled in favor of Marck but had no choice 
based on the evidence.

"I have no doubt you are guilty of what the police say you are," Pilshaw 
told Marck.

The hearing in many ways became a trial of police conduct. But Pilshaw 
said, "Mr. Marck is the bad guy here."

What was not clear Friday is whether the suppression of the search evidence 
means the meth-making charge against Marck will be dismissed. For now, he 
remains in the Sedgwick County Jail; he faces a drug- possession charge in 
Dodge City.
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