Omaha, NE.—Attorney General Doug Peterson has said no to nearly a third of the Nebraska State Legislature.
Peterson will not name a special prosecutor to investigate possible wrongdoing within the top command of the Nebraska State Patrol, possible wrongdoing and violations of state law first reported exclusively by News Channel Nebraska.
In a 4-page letter to Peterson 17 lawmakers, led by State Sen. Burke Harr of Omaha, argued that state law “requires” Peterson to take the legal steps necessary to put the special prosecutor in place.
According to the lawmakers, the AG’s office would usually handle such investigations itself but because Peterson represents the State Patrol an obvious conflict of interest demands an independent probe.
Peterson agrees his office has a conflict of interest but says any special prosecutor he appoints would be stifled by the same conflict.
The 17 lawmakers —13 Democrats, two Republicans, one independent and one Libertarian— had asked Peterson to ask the court to make the appointment. Peterson says such an appointment is his call.
Peterson did not rule out an investigation by some unnamed county attorney. According to Peterson, “nothing prevents the appropriate county attorney” from looking into possible violations of state law.
Earlier this month Gov. Pete Ricketts confirmed “an ongoing” FBI investigation into the patrol. However, the lawmakers letter noted, “The FBI may, but is not required to report violations of state law.”
Following NCN’s investigation into a deadly 2016 chase and crash in western Nebraska Ricketts fired the head of the patrol, Colonel Brad Rice, and suspended Lt. Col. Thomas Schwarten and five others.
Those five have not been publicly named and Ricketts has kept their names under wraps citing, among other things, the ongoing federal probe. The search for Rice’s successor is also continuing.
Earlier this month the governor’s lead investigator issued a 15 page review which found “dishonesty and dereliction of duty” in the top ranks of the patrol.
The lawmakers have criticized the review as incomplete with many unanswered questions including “which laws, rules, or policies were broken or if prosecution is warranted.”
According to an in house e-mail first exposed by News Channel Nebraska, Internal Affairs Lt. Dennis Leonard—who has since retired—clearly voiced his frustration with the patrol’s handling of the chase which involved a controversial police maneuver— a tactical vehicle intervention—used to stop the fleeing car.
“I never thought this likely but I must say that I no longer believe we are capable of objectively investigating our own,” wrote Leonard, supporting sources who have told News Channel Nebraska that the patrol has been involved in a cover-up.
Initially the governor’s office defended the patrol. Spokesman Taylor Gage noting, “This matter went to a grand jury, and the grand jury found the State Patrol’s actions were appropriate.”
As News Channel Nebraska has reported Lt. Leonard never testified before that Sheridan County grand jury.
The 17 lawmakers who signed the letter are:
Carol Blood, Sue Crawford, Burke Harr, Kate Bolz, Laura Ebke, Sara Howard, Ernie Chambers, Matt Hansen, Rick Kolowski, Bob Krist, Patty Pansing Brooks, Tony Vargas, Mike McDonnell, Dan Quick, Lynne Walz, Adam Morfield, Paul Schumacher.
To read NCN’s full investigation click here. To view the state trooper’s in-car camera video of the crash see the video above.