A transcript of court testimony in a lawsuit against the Cleveland Police Department supports the Times Free Press' account of the hearing and rebuts the Cleveland police chief's characterization of the reporting as "grossly inaccurate."
Police Chief Wes Snyder did not respond Tuesday when the Times Free Press emailed him a copy of the transcript, released Tuesday, and asked for comment.
Last week, after the original story ran, Snyder said Times Free Press staff writer Todd South's reporting was "totally irresponsible."
Times Free Press Managing Editor Alison Gerber said Tuesday that getting the story right is the newspaper's core value.
"The transcript demonstrates the accuracy of South's reporting," Gerber said.
The employment lawsuit in which the testimony was given was filed by Duff Brumley, a Cleveland police detective who was fired in 2010. Snyder reacted after Assistant Police Chief Gary Hicks testified Nov. 17 in a hearing on Brumley's lawsuit.
As part of his testimony, Hicks said he had reported allegations to Snyder involving, among other things, officers snorting crushed hydrocodone pills and having relationships with underage girls.
South covered the hearing and spent a week investigating the claims, including asking Snyder four times for comment on the testimony. The story was published on Nov. 29 without Snyder's comment.
On Dec. 1, Snyder called a news conference at which he read a statement attacking South's report and accusing him of having a "personal agenda." He said the story's assertions "that I had knowledge of drug and sexual abuse by members of this department prior to my internal affairs investigation" were "completely false."
However, the transcript indicates something different.
Here is the back-and-forth between Assistant Chief Gary Hicks and Gerald Tidwell, Brumley's attorney, during the Nov. 17 hearing:
"Hicks: There was a period of time there that I was receiving information we had some guys doing some stuff they shouldn't do. There was no proof. I went to Chief Snyder and told him what I was hearing and then ... he told me to have a meeting with all the, the four officers and all their supervisors and told me to get their attention.
Tidwell: What were they allegedly doing?
Hicks: I can't remember everything. One of them was -- had allegedly -- was in a pursuit -- the Polk County Sheriff's Department was pursuing one of our officers on a motorcycle, and then he was bragging about that, getting away with it. You had some indications that some were fooling with juveniles and you had another one that was kind of indicating that they were messing with pills, hydrocodone and stuff, snorting them.
Tidwell: Snorting them?
Tidwell: When you say messing with juveniles, are you talking about messing with female, female juveniles on male officers' parts?
Tidwell: And so Chief Snyder had you instruct these guys not to do it anymore if they were?
Hicks: He told me to get their attention, and I called them all into the training center. And we have something that we say at the Cleveland Police Department on all of our, our discipline, you know: If you continue this behavior your job is in jeopardy. I wrote that on the board and I just kind of -- I never called no names or nothing. I just told them what I was hearing, that we were hearing this and it's very disturbing. And no one said nothing and everybody left."
In December 2009, Hughes shot another officer in the hand at Hughes' home. An investigation revealed that Hughes and Officer Nathan Thomas were using pills without a prescription and having sex with 14- and 16-year-old girls.
Thomas pleaded guilty in June 2010 to drug, forgery and statutory rape charges. He is serving a six-year sentence at the Southeastern Regional Correctional Facility in Pikeville, Tenn.
Hughes pleaded guilty to aggravated assault and statutory rape. He is on probation, records show.
Tidwell said Tuesday he disagrees with Snyder's characterization of the Times Free Press' reporting as inaccurate.
"I think the news stories are accurate, and I think more information is going to come out. The lid's been blown off," he said. "I think what happened up there was, obviously, there was a reason to investigate, but the administration chose to ignore it until the situation literally blew up in their hand."
Judy Walton has worked 25 years at the Chattanooga Times and the Times Free Press as an editor and reporter focusing on government coverage and investigations. At various times she has been an assistant metro editor, region reporter and editor, county government reporter, government-beat team leader, features editor and page designer. Originally from California, Walton was brought up in a military family and attended a dozen schools across the country. She earned a journalism degree ...