Decade of records document Cleveland police misconduct

Decade of records document Cleveland police misconduct

December 11th, 2011 by Judy Walton in News

The Cleveland Police Department building is on Second Street.

Photo by Tim Barber/Times Free Press.

Firing of Cleveland Detective Upheld


A judge has upheld the firing of former Cleveland, Tenn., police detective Duff Brumley last year.

Hamilton County Circuit Court Judge W. Neil Thomas, acting as special judge in the case, said Cleveland City Manager Janice Casteel had adequate evidence to uphold Brumley's termination in August 2010.

Brumley had called the firing arbitrary and capricious, but Thomas ruled Nov. 29 that the record showed testimony supported the charges that led to his removal.

It was at a Nov. 17 hearing in the Brumley case that a witness said Cleveland police brass had heard of possible immoral and illegal conduct among some officers, including sex with underage girls, snorting crushed hydrocodone pills, porn on city cellphones and other offenses.

Cleveland police have said there was "no proof" that officers in 2008 were abusing prescription pills and having sex with underage girls before an investigation began late in the year.

But police department records show that one of the Cleveland officers now serving a prison term for two statutory rapes in 2008 and 2009 was known to be dallying with a teenage girl 10 years ago.

Files also document substance abuse by the officer, Nathan Thomas, in 2005 and 2007.

Another officer involved in the 2008 investigation, Dennis Hughes, was investigated twice in late 2007 for domestic altercations and harassing phone calls to a former girlfriend. The file notes that Hughes was intoxicated both times and when investigators came to question him.

Thomas never was disciplined beyond counseling. Hughes was given three days off for harassment, records show. Hughes later told TBI investigators that he had been addicted to hydrocodone pills since 2006, and Thomas confessed to pill addiction.

A third officer, Lt. Jeremy Noble, who was not involved in the 2008 case, was named in 2003 and 2004 reports saying he tried to date students while working as a school resource officer at Cleveland High School; that he left campus with a girl at least three times; and that he propositioned a Lee University student.

In 2009, Noble was demoted and suspended without pay after he confessed to having three sexual affairs while on duty.

Cleveland city officials, including City Manager Janice Casteel and Mayor Tom Rowland, have not returned calls seeking comment over almost two weeks.

In the beginning

Such activities by Cleveland officers returned to public attention in November, when Assistant Police Chief Gary Hicks testified that officers were warned in May 2008 against "dating minors, porn on city-owned phones, consumption of alcoholic beverages while off-duty, snorting crushed pills [and] oral sex in public" and other misbehavior, according to a memo on Cleveland Police Department stationery.

Hicks was testifying in a lawsuit filed by a Cleveland detective who had been fired.

Police Chief Wes Snyder said that allegations about such activities weren't specific enough to investigate the officers' conduct.

But in November 2008, Hughes accidentally shot another officer in the hand and the ensuing investigation uncovered prescription pill abuse. In January 2008, another investigation began when a 15-year-old runaway was found with Hughes and told police that two other teen girls were involved with the adult police officers.

Thomas pleaded guilty to having sex with 14- and 16-year-old girls as well as drug and forgery charges. Hughes pleaded guilty to statutory rape and aggravated assault.

When the mother of the 15-year-old tried to draw attention to Hughes' conduct in May 2008, her complaint was not written down or investigated, which department policy requires.

"We teach people to trust teachers and trust law enforcement, and when they violate that trust, what do you do?" the mother said in an interview last week. Her name is not being revealed to protect her daughter's identity.

Snyder said last week his office "acted appropriately and transparently" in the 2008 investigation.

Asked if his officers did everything they were required to do under department policy and their oaths as police officers, Snyder said in an email: "If the young ladies [sic] mother wants to file a complaint on them, I will review it and deal with it transparently and within the Cities [sic] policy and state law."

Officer Nathan Thomas

Police records provided to the Times Free Press listed only two incidents for Hughes, both related to domestic incidents with a former girlfriend.

Four internal charges were brought against Thomas in August 2001, after a Cleveland woman said he had been dating her and giving her alcohol since 1999 when she was 18 and he was 28. According to police records, the girl broke off the relationship with the married Thomas when she caught him with yet another woman.

One count, conduct unbecoming an officer, was sustained, but nothing in the documents provided under the state's Open Records Law show Thomas being given any punishment.

He was reprimanded in December 2004 after police found him at home when he was supposed to be working. In February 2005, an internal investigation noted he was coming to work late and leaving early. Confronted with suspicions of alcohol abuse, Thomas confessed and said he would handle the problem.

In June 2007, his file shows a counseling session with Snyder and noting that domestic incidents at his home required police response five times since 2001.

Snyder wrote that "I informed Thomas that I was becoming weary of dealing with his personal problems and that this behavior could not continue. I told him if he could not correct these issues in his personal life more severe disciplinary measures will be taken."

Lt. Jeremy Noble

Files show three incidents for Noble, who was Snyder's brother-in-law and wasn't connected to the 2008 investigation into the accidental shooting.

In 2003, Cleveland High School Principal Chuck Rockholt told police that female students allegedly had complained to a school board member that Noble was trying to date girls at the school.

No formal compliant was filed. Schools Superintendent Rick Denning told police he didn't think the allegations were credible and he wouldn't reveal the board member's name.

The same report documents that Noble left the high school campus at least three times with a girl. The report said he took her to a DARE program, to pick up his wife's car at the mechanic and to observe his wife teaching a class at another school. The girl's statement wasn't in the package of records given to the Times Free Press.

On Friday, Snyder said the girl was a baby sitter and no misconduct ever was alleged. Snyder then was the captain over the criminal investigation division and had responsibility for internal affairs investigations.

He said in an email Friday that he didn't remember whether he or Lt. Ken Simpson investigated the Noble case and there's no name listed on the internal affairs investigator's notes.

In 2004, a mother reported to police that Noble propositioned her daughter, a Lee University student. This was one day after Noble reported that the young woman propositioned him while he was interviewing her over a harassment complaint she had filed against a fellow student. No formal complaint was filed.

And in 2009, Noble admitted that he had had three sexual affairs -- including one with the wife of a fellow officer -- while on duty.

Noble was cited for immoral conduct, dereliction of duty, misuse of city property and falsification of documents. He was reduced in rank from lieutenant to sergeant, given 10 days off without pay, lost use of his city car for 20 days and was required to serve a year on disciplinary probation.