State Patrol

State Patrol graduates take part in a ceremony Friday at the Capitol.

JoANNE YOUNG, Journal Star

A Nebraska state senator will ask the state attorney general to appoint an outside attorney to investigate any wrongdoing by a former State Patrol superintendent and others.

Omaha Sen. Burke Harr has written a letter to Attorney General Doug Peterson telling him he knows Peterson has a conflict of interest in investigating the State Patrol. 

"Failure to request an appointment carries an appearance of impropriety and raises ethical issues," Harr's letter said. 

A number of other senators have said they will sign on to the letter. 

Harr is basing the state investigation request on a review of the patrol conducted by the state's chief human resources officer Jason Jackson. The review substantiated claims of misconduct by Rice during his time as superintendent, serious enough that Gov. Pete Ricketts fired Rice in June. Other high-ranking administrators were suspended at the same time. 

"I think there's probable cause that a crime was committed," Harr said Friday. 

Jackson's review lays out a lot of facts, but never comes to a conclusion, he said. 

The review said Rice was fired because he interfered with patrol internal affairs investigations on at least four occasions, violated the governor's workplace harassment and equal opportunities policies and violated chain of command. 

Harr believes the review suggests possible violations of state law, but it is limited to anecdotal allegations and contains hearsay. It does not determine or investigate if Rice criminally abused his power, he said. 

"If the accusations in Jackson's review are true, this is corruption at the highest level, orchestrated by those at the highest level," Harr said. 

The review also fails to conclude which laws, rules or policies were broken or if prosecution is warranted, he said. 

Ricketts has said he turned over information from the review to the Federal Bureau of Investigation. 

"If they won't confirm or deny there's an investigation going on, I'm somewhat reading tea leaves," Harr said. 

A state investigation at the same time there is a federal investigation would not be an obstruction of justice, as some have suggested, Harr said. It would not be trying to influence a federal investigation. 

"There are concurrent investigations all the time between federal and state authorities," he said. 

Such an investigation is going on in Omaha with regard to a death of a mentally ill man who died after an encounter with police, he said. 

"Somehow in Omaha we are able to walk and chew gum at the same time, and I'm just asking that we do the same thing here at the state level," he said. 

There is a shorter statute of limitations for prosecution of misdemeanors, so the state needs to be investigating, Harr said.  

A federally focused FBI investigation or a patrol internal investigation should not be substitute for the constitutional role of the attorney general's office, Harr said. At the same time, he understands that Peterson can't both prosecute and defend state agencies and officials.

But when the attorney general's office has a conflict in a criminal case, it must request the court appoint a special assistant attorney general to handle the case, Harr said. 

Lincoln Sen. Adam Morfeld said he will sign on to the letter because the state and the attorney general's office have a responsibility to investigate matters related to violations of state law. 

Sen. Laura Ebke of Crete, chairwoman of the Legislature's Judiciary Committee, also would favor a special counsel appointed to look at the patrol issues, she said, especially if the FBI found any questions about violations of state law. 

She would prefer, she said, that the Legislature not be the investigator. An appointed independent prosecutor removes the politics from the investigation.  

Harr said several senators who told him they would not join in signing the letter said they would rather wait for the FBI to complete its investigation. 

Reach the writer at 402-473-7228 or jyoung@journalstar.com

On Twitter @LJSLegislature.

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JoAnne Young covers state government, including the Legislature and state agencies, and the people they serve.

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