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State Patrol Press Conference

Gov. Pete Ricketts and state Human Resources Officer Jason Jackson address the media during a news conference on June 23 at Nebraska Sate Patrol headquarters, when Ricketts ordered a review of the patrol.

Citing a need to protect the reputation of the Nebraska State Patrol, Gov. Pete Ricketts on Friday removed Col. Brad Rice as its superintendent.

The initial findings of an internal review of State Patrol policies, procedures and leadership conduct suggested "interference in internal investigations at the highest level," the governor said.

"It is imperative that (the patrol's) reputation be beyond reproach," Ricketts said. "Col. Rice did not live up to my expectations."

Ricketts said he met with Rice early Friday morning and "relieved him of his duties."

Six State Patrol officers were placed on administrative leave pending an ongoing investigation by State Human Resources Director Jason Jackson.

"Protecting the public safety is the paramount duty of the state," Ricketts said, and Nebraskans need to have confidence in the integrity of the State Patrol.

Ricketts appointed Maj. Russ Stanczyk as the patrol's interim superintendent. He said he will begin an immediate search for a new leader of the patrol.

In the wake of the governor's announcement, Sen. Adam Morfeld of Lincoln called for "an immediate oversight hearing and independent investigation" of State Patrol issues by the Legislature's Judiciary Committee.

"The Judiciary Committee must exercise its independent investigatory powers to determine if any laws were broken, whether or not there was a cover-up, and if additional statutes are needed to ensure accountability in the State Patrol and executive branch," Morfeld said.

Jackson has "looked into specific investigative files" at the patrol, the governor said, and "he's not done."

The emphasis, Ricketts said, has been on "how State Patrol personnel have behaved internally."

Jackson said his review "has focused on how recent use-of-force investigations have been conducted."

Ricketts instituted the agency-wide review earlier in June.

Initial findings of the continuing investigation have been turned over to the FBI and the U.S. Attorney's Office for further investigation, the governor said.

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During a news conference a week ago, the governor said a number of concerns had been raised, including how a Sheridan County fatal crash in October involving the patrol was handled internally.

Another concern was a grievance filed by the State Law Enforcement Bargaining Council recently over the safety of some patrol members' protective vests and body armor.

Other anecdotal concerns have been raised throughout all levels of the organization, Ricketts said last week.

State Sen. Ernie Chambers last week called for the firing of Rice. He told the Omaha World-Herald that it appeared some patrol officers lied about the cause of a fatal crash in Sheridan County in October and that Rice supported them.

In October, a trooper saw a 2001 Mercury Sable, with no license plate, run a stop sign on a county road north of Gordon in Sheridan County, the patrol reported. The trooper attempted to stop the car, and it slowed, but then turned and accelerated rapidly down another county road.

Two miles north of Gordon, the patrol car intercepted the vehicle, which crashed into a ditch and rolled.

The driver, Antoine L. Ladeaux, 32, of Pine Ridge, S.D., was ejected and died at the scene of the crash. Three passengers in the vehicle were taken to the Gordon hospital where they were treated and released.

The case went before a Sheridan County grand jury in December, and the trooper involved was cleared of any wrongdoing, but questions have been raised about whether there was internal interference in how the State Patrol report of the accident was framed. 

Reach the writer at 402-473-7248 or dwalton@journalstar.com.

On Twitter @LJSDon.

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Political reporter

Don Walton, a Husker and Yankee fan, is a longtime Journal Star political and government reporter.

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