Mother's complaint to police in Cleveland didn't lead to probe

Mother's complaint to police in Cleveland didn't lead to probe

December 8th, 2011 by Judy Walton in News

Cleveland, Tenn., Police Chief Wes Snyder

Photo by Patrick Smith/Times Free Press.

Document: Cleveland Police Department Complaint Policy

Cleveland Police Department Complaint Policy.

A mother's complaint early in 2008 that a patrol officer had inappropriate contact with her teen daughter apparently was treated as an informal matter and never written down or investigated, as Cleveland Police Department rules required.

Officer Dennis Hughes was arrested Jan. 4, 2009, with a 15-year-old girl, alcohol and pills in his truck, records show. He later pleaded guilty to statutory rape and aggravated assault.

But the 15-year-old's mother said she tried in May of that year to report that Hughes had been coming by her house and paying inappropriate attention to the girl.

It was just about the time of a May 29, 2008, meeting during which several officers were warned against dating minors, snorting crushed prescription pills and viewing porn on department cellphones, among other offenses. Hughes had been summoned to the meeting but was not there. He was briefed later by his supervisor, Lt. Steve Tyson, police said.

The mother, who is not identified here to protect her daughter's identity, said Hughes met the girl after she ran away and was brought home. Cleveland police records show that was May 16 and 17, 2008.

"Within two weeks, definitely," the mother said, she called Detective Suzanne Jackson at the Cleveland Police Department to say the officer's attentions to her daughter made her uncomfortable.

She didn't allege any criminal behavior against Hughes but wanted him to stay away from her house.

Jackson said she asked the woman whether she wanted to file a formal complaint or let the department handle it internally.

"'She [the mother] said, 'I just want it to stop,'" Jackson said.

Jackson, a 19-year-veteran of the department who was fired in June, said she had just been promoted to detective. She said she was unsure how to handle the mother's call, so she spoke to Mark Gibson, senior detective and her mentor in the Crimes Against Persons division.

She said he told her that if the mother didn't want to file a formal complaint, she should just meet with Hughes and tell him, without making accusations, that he needed to stay away from the girl.

Jackson later spoke to Tyson, who confirmed that Hughes had told him about her warning to stay away from the woman's daughter.

None of the three officers apparently filed any paperwork documenting the mother's complaint.

But a written departmental directive states, "The policy of the Cleveland Police Department is to record and investigate fully each verbal or written complaint or allegation of misconduct against the members of the department."

Gibson, now a lieutenant, is taking courses at the FBI Academy in Quantico, Va., police spokeswoman Evie West said Monday. A message left for Gibson at the academy Monday was not returned.

West said she passed a request for comment to Tyson, who is on third shift. He did not respond by presstime Wednesday.

Hughes apparently has left Cleveland and could not be reached for comment.

"No proof"

Police Chief Wes Snyder has said his department had no proof that officers were snorting crushed hydrocodone, having sex with underage girls and other offenses before December 2008, when Hughes shot another officer at his apartment and an investigation began that brought out details about the drugs and teenage girls.

Officials in 10th Judicial District Attorney Steve Bebb's office who prosecuted Hughes and officers Nathan Thomas and Jonathan Hammons, said Wednesday there was little Snyder could do with nothing to go on but gossip.

"The word 'complaints' carries connotations," said Steve Hatchett, an assistant district attorney. "You're giving them facts, you're giving them names, you're giving them addresses -- none of that ever happened.

"There were rumors about all these officer being involved with pills -- painkillers -- but nobody had any concrete information they [police officials] brought to us," Hatchett said. "If they had had the proof, the would have brought it to us."

Asked last week whether documenting the mother's complaint could have gotten the investigation going more quickly, Snyder said by email, "All files are available to you on any closed case. I have not read the file. The court or D.A. could provide you with that quicker than I. If memory serves me, he [Hughes] was prosecuted and convicted for that."

The district attorney's office said the statutory rape investigation began in January 2009, after the mother reported her daughter had run away again and the Bradley County Sheriff's Office found her in Hughes' truck.

Hatchett said that, based on interviews with the 15-year-old, two other victims were identified -- one 14, one 17. Hatchett said the 15-year-old denied having sex with Hughes before November 2008.

Hughes and Officer Nathan Thomas already were under investigation for involvement in illegal use of prescription drugs.

In 2009, Hughes was charged with aggravated perjury, making a false report to an officer, aggravated reckless assault, aggravated assault, reckless endangerment, contributing to the delinquency of a minor, statutory rape and aggravated statutory rape. He eventually pleaded guilty to aggravated statutory rape and aggravated assault, and the other charges were dropped. Hughes served nine months in jail and was placed on probation.

Thomas pleaded guilty to two counts of statutory rape, forgery and possessing drugs with intent to sell. He is serving six years in the Southeastern Regional Correctional Institute at Pike-ville.

In October, Snyder said Jackson was fired for mishandling evidence. Newspaper archives quoted Bebb as saying he would not prosecute any cases she handled.

Jackson had no comment on the firing Tuesday.