Lin­coln Mayor Fires Po­lice Chief

OF­FI­CIALS CAUGHT ‘FLAT-FOOTED’ BY CON­CERNS

Washington County Enterprise-Leader - - FRONT PAGE - By Lynn Kut­ter

LIN­COLN — Lin­coln Mayor Rob Hulse fired po­lice Chief Brian Key on Satur­day, about three months after Key was pro­moted to the job.

Hulse an­nounced the fir­ing with a post on the City of Lin­coln Face­book page on Satur­day. The post stated, “Ev­i­dence has de­vel­oped over the last 24 hours that made it nec­es­sary for Mayor Rob Hulse of the City of Lin­coln to ter­mi­nate Chief Brian Key’s em­ploy­ment.” He said fur­ther comments would not be made be­cause of an open in­ves­ti­ga­tion. Key, for­merly as­sis­tant po­lice chief, was pro­moted Aug. 22.

His fir­ing came three days after Hulse an­nounced on Face­book that Key had been placed on ad­min­is­tra­tive leave “pend­ing an in­ter­nal in­ves­ti­ga­tion.”

No in­for­ma­tion has been re­leased yet on why Key was dis­missed or why he is un­der in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

Ac­cord­ing to The As­so­ci­ated Press, Bill Sadler, spokesman for the State Po­lice, said an in­ves­ti­ga­tion was opened last month at the re­quest of the Washington County Prose­cut­ing At­tor­ney’s of­fice. Sadler re­ferred fur­ther ques­tions to that of­fice.

Prose­cut­ing At­tor­ney Matt Dur­rett on Mon­day said he asked the State Po­lice to open an in­ves­ti­ga­tion involving Key sev­eral weeks ago.

Dur­rett said the Washington County Sher­iff’s Of­fice had re­ceived “mul­ti­ple in­quiries and con­cerns” about Key and con­tacted the prose­cut­ing at­tor­ney’s of­fice about con­duct­ing an in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

Ac­cord­ing to Dur­rett, the sher­iff’s of­fice did not feel com­fort­able han­dling an in­ves­ti­ga­tion be­cause of the “close re­la­tion­ship” be­tween Lin­coln Po­lice Depart­ment and the sher­iff ’s of­fice.

Dur­rett said he could not elab­o­rate on the in­quiries re­ceived by the sher­iff’s of­fice.

He said the State Po­lice would turn over its in­ves­ti­ga­tion when it is fin­ished.

“If there’s any­thing in there that war­rants charges, we’ll file charges,” Dur­rett said. “If not, we won’t.”

Dur­rett said he would be able to com­ment fully on the case when the in­ves­ti­ga­tion is con­cluded.

Hulse on Satur­day said for­mer Chief Rus­sell Mor­phis, who moved to as­sis­tant po­lice chief on Aug. 22, would serve as in­terim po­lice chief.

A per­sonal phone num­ber for Key could not be ob­tained Mon­day, but he re­layed a mes­sage through Mor­phis that he did not want to com­ment on his ter­mi­na­tion or the in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

City At­tor­ney Steve Zega on Mon­day said State Po­lice in­ves­ti­ga­tors were in the Lin­coln Po­lice Depart­ment three weeks ago specif­i­cally look­ing in the ev­i­dence locker. He said city of­fi­cials did not know what the State Po­lice was in­ves­ti­gat­ing or if they were in­ves­ti­gat­ing any­one in par­tic­u­lar.

Three weeks went by and the city did not hear any­thing back from the State Po­lice, Zega said.

Then on Oct. 24, Zega said he re­ceived a phone call about con­cerns that had to do with Key. Zega de­scribed the per­son as some­one he con­sid­ered “very cred­i­ble,” not some­one who was an­gry at Key for some rea­son. He said he con­tacted the State Po­lice, the prose­cut­ing at­tor­ney’s of­fice and Sher­iff’s Of­fice and found all were aware that an in­ves­ti­ga­tion involving Key was on­go­ing.

In ad­di­tion, he said a law en­force­ment of­fi­cer from an­other agency called him the same day about al­le­ga­tions con­cern­ing Key.

Zega said this of­fi­cer was “more en­er­gized” and in­di­cated the con­cerns could “po­ten­tially en­dan­ger pub­lic safety.”

Zega said he kept Hulse ap­prised of all the in­for­ma­tion he was re­ceiv­ing “ev­ery step of the way.” Based on all the con­ver­sa­tions over the course of that day, Zega said he rec­om­mended that Hulse place Key on ad­min­is­tra­tive leave pend­ing an in­ter­nal in­ves­ti­ga­tion by the sher­iff’s of­fice.

Hulse, who was out of town with work, placed Key on ad­min­is­tra­tive leave dur­ing a meeting via speaker phone. Along with Key, Zega and city hu­man re­sources staff at­tended the meeting. Key was asked to hand over his weapon, badge and keys to his po­lice ve­hi­cle.

Two days later on Oct 26, Zega said he re­ceived a phone call from Mor­phis with al­le­ga­tions con­cern­ing Key that were more se­ri­ous.

Zega told City Coun­cil mem­bers dur­ing a meeting Mon­day night that Mor­phis “de­scribed some events to me that were very dis­turb­ing.” Mor­phis said he had recorded ev­i­dence of the al­le­ga­tions.

Hulse and Zega watched the record­ing Satur­day morn­ing and af­ter­ward, Hulse met with Key and told him he was be­ing fired.

Zega said the first phone call last week caught both him and Hulse “flat-footed.” Mon­day night, Hulse said he had “no idea” about the al­le­ga­tions be­ing made about Key.

“That’s the thing about it,” Hulse said. “I had no idea there were any of th­ese is­sues that would cause this de­ci­sion mak­ing.”

Mor­phis on Mon­day also said the events that have un­folded took him by sur­prise.

Key had been with Lin­coln Po­lice Depart­ment for al­most 15 years. He started with the city Jan. 2, 2004. He has served as a school re­source of­fi­cer and was pro­moted to as­sis­tant chief in July 2017. Prior to Lin­coln, Key worked in dis­patch for Washington County.

Key and Mor­phis switched places in Au­gust. At the time, Hulse said Mor­phis was dis­cussing plans for re­tire­ment and wanted a smooth tran­si­tion.

Hulse pro­moted Key to po­lice chief and said Key was the “right choice and the only log­i­cal choice.” He also said Mor­phis was on board with the change.

Cur­rently, Lin­coln has five po­si­tions in its po­lice depart­ment: chief, as­sis­tant chief and three of­fi­cers, which in­cludes a school re­source of­fi­cer.

The city is al­ready ad­ver­tis­ing for can­di­dates for a new po­lice chief. The city’s Face­book page on Satur­day af­ter­noon said Lin­coln was ac­cept­ing ap­pli­ca­tions for po­lice chief.

Lin­coln vot­ers will con­sider a .75-per­cent sales tax in­crease on the Nov. 6 gen­eral election bal­lot which would be used to fund the hir­ing of two ad­di­tional po­lice of­fi­cers.

Hulse said he hopes the un­cer­tainty sur­round­ing the Po­lice Depart­ment won’t ad­versely af­fect the vote on the sales tax mea­sure.

“We’ve iden­ti­fied the need for ad­di­tional of­fi­cers and ex­plained it to our res­i­dents. I feel the cit­i­zens of Lin­coln will come out and sup­port us,” he said.

Lin­coln vot­ers will also choose a new mayor on election day. Hulse is not running for re-election. Can­di­dates for mayor are Coun­cil mem­ber and busi­ness owner Doug Hutchens, John­son po­lice of­fi­cer Chris Porter, who also is a for­mer Lin­coln po­lice of­fi­cer, and Ja­son Davis, who works for the city of Fayet­teville.

Key

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