Review of Fort Myers police internal affairs investigation completed by outside firm
This article features Government Accountability Project’s Of Counsel, David Seide, and was originally published here.
An independent review of an internal affairs investigation into a former high-ranking Fort Myers police official has been completed.
The internal affairs investigation looked into whether then Major William Newhouse had ordered a subordinate to lie to city council about cost overruns for a new Fort Myers Police Department headquarters at the old News-Press building at 2442 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd.
The internal affairs investigation cleared Newhouse of any wrongdoing. Newhouse retired soon after. The complaint that led to the investigation was made by then FMPD Inspector General Donald Oswald.
Oswald, who retired from the department, made claims that the internal affairs investigation into Newhouse was undermined because it was conducted by another Newhouse subordinate.
This prompted the city to request an independent review of the investigation.
The city’s investigation concluded Fort Myers police Chief Derrick Diggs made the wrong call when he declared the allegations unfounded. Instead, he should have ruled they were not sustained.
Not sustained doesn’t mean the allegation is untrue, it means there is not enough evidence to prove either way.
“The chief says it’s unfounded. It’s unfounded. That’s it. Bottom line,” said Newhouse’s attorney Robert Burandt. “You can second guess him all day long. You can say he mislabeled it, but he is the chief, right, wrong or indifferent. He has that authority.”
David Seide, Oswald’s attorney, said the chief smeared Oswald’s name.
“The chief called the inspector general a liar,” Seide said. “His reputation has been hurt by the unfair, just the unfounded finding is a blot on his career.”
The report also found that even though Diggs has the authority to issue the finding in the case, he was also a witness.
The chief was in the room when Newhouse told a lieutenant to keep quiet about the cost “until after (council members) spend the $36 million already budgeted and are in too deep to back out.”
The report states: “The question remains whether (Diggs) can possibly remain impartial reviewing the facts of an investigation when they themselves were a witness to the alleged incident.”
Seide calls it a “flat out blatant black and white conflict of interest.”
“It’s just, it’s basic common sense that you can’t be the judge, jury and witness on the same case,” Seide said.
But Burandt said the chief is the boss.
“It doesn’t matter whether he’s a witness or not. And whether or not he can be impartial. He could have fired Newhouse right on the spot, said that was an inappropriate comment, you’re fired,” Burandt said.
WINK News spoke to Newhouse in the fall. Newhouse said this had all been a misunderstanding and that he never gave an illegal order.
“If he thought what I said was wrong he had a duty to say so then at that meeting, he should have said no, explain what you mean. But he didn’t do that,” Newhouse said.
Burandt said he believes this report “glossed over that fact.”
Something the report did get into is the chief allowed a subordinate of Newhouse to investigate him which is something Oswald said from day one should never have happened.
“When you see how this matter was handled, it’s indicative of the fact that he’s part of the problem,” Oswald said then.
Burandt said anyone who could have done the investigation reported to Newhouse, who oversaw the internal affairs investigation department.
A Fort Myers police spokesperson told WINK News Diggs tried to get an outside agency to do the Newhouse internal affairs investigation.
“Chief Diggs initially asked the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to investigate the complaint against the former Major. Unfortunately, it was not within FDLE’s parameters. Chief Diggs also met with the City Attorney requesting his office, or an outside law firm, conduct the investigation, but those requests were denied,” the spokesperson said.
Fort Myers city council will hear recommendations from the firm during their meeting on Monday night.
One suggestion includes that Fort Myers police form a relationship with another police department if a conflict arises again.
A city spokesperson said no one will offer a comment on the review before Monday.