Lincoln Mayor Fires Police Chief
OFFICIALS CAUGHT ‘FLAT-FOOTED’ BY CONCERNS
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.