Editorials, Opinion

Dear Westover, that’s not how investigations work

No one on Westover City Council will second Ralph Mullins’ motion for an independent investigation, but we’d like to second Westover resident Alli Jackson’s point that council is going about the matter backwards.

During Monday’s meeting, Councilor Duane Tatar again insisted that Mullins produce the evidence or “proof” he claims to possess regarding Officer Aaron Dalton’s and Mayor Dave Johnson’s wrongdoings before council could consider approving an investigation.

As Jackson said, the entire point of an investigation is to uncover evidence and to find out the facts. In law enforcement, all that’s needed to start an investigation is for police to be notified that an alleged crime has likely occurred. It is not up to the alleged victim to provide all the proof of a crime to an officer; it is the officer’s job to uncover the details and evidence of wrongdoing.

Besides, is the audio recording of a meeting between former Police Chief Richard Panico, City Attorney Tim Stranko and police Lt. John Morgan not enough for Tatar? In it, Panico discusses the way Johnson repeatedly (allegedly) interceded on Dalton’s behalf. As we previously reported (DP-09-21-21), Panico is heard on the recording saying, “There are two police departments here. They are the one that we have and they are the one the mayor has and that’s as simple as I can say it.”

That alone should warrant an investigation.

As part of the back and forth Monday night, Councilor Steve Andryzcik rebutted Jackson, stating that if Mullins actually had any proof, then there would be no need for an investigation anyway. We disagree.

It’s certainly understandable that Mullins is hesitant to offer up everything he has to the body led by one of the parties implicated in the alleged misconduct. That’s a great way for everything to get buried and never see the light of day again.

Even if Mullins did hand over all the proof he has, an investigation would still be necessary. A neutral third party would need to verify the evidence’s validity and follow up on any information that is missing or that may lead to more questions. Based on how this has played out so far, we wouldn’t put it past council to claim that Mullins’ “proof” is fake and sweep the whole thing under the rug.

That said, it’s become clear that Mullins’ fellow council members won’t budge unless he can offer them something. Mullins should consider bringing copies of one piece of evidence to the next regular Westover Council meeting. This way, the original documentation is preserved, Tatar’s and Andryzcik’s requests for proof are met and the evidence is logged in the public record.

In the face of the proof they so vehemently demanded, Westover’s recalcitrant council members would have to work much harder to defend their opposition to an independent investigation.