News: Kandi's Sweet Justice

Jury rules against cops who abused her

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Jymi Bolden

Kandi Linthicum, shown here in 2003, won a lawsuit against the two police officers who took advantage of her. Both officers are back on the police force.

When we're children, our parents warn us about the dangers of talking to strangers. Based on Kandi Linthicum's experience, they should warn against talking to some police, too.

During Linthicum's 40th birthday celebration in November 2001, she stopped by Madonna's Bar & Grill in downtown Cincinnati. When customers found out why Linthicum was there, they began buying her drinks. In all, she had 12 beers and four shots over several hours.

As she left the bar on foot, two Cincinnati Police officers — Robert Johnson and Robert Kidd Jr. — spotted an obviously impaired Linthicum and offered in a police cruiser a ride to her Corryville apartment. Once they reached her home, the officers, both on duty, entered without being invited, took off their gun belts and threw them on her couch.

Linthicum doesn't remember much about the rest of the night; but upon waking the next morning, she was able to piece together that the officers had sex with her before they left.

Feeling violated, Linthicum eventually filed a complaint with the police department against Johnson and Kidd. During an internal investigation, the officers initially denied having sex with Linthicum, then changed their accounts as discrepancies mounted but insisted the encounter was consensual.

While the department's investigation was ongoing, Linthicum said the two officers tried to contact her and Kidd threatened her.

City officials eventually fired Johnson and Kidd in late 2002, and the pair appealed. In a stunning reversal less than a year later, an arbitrator ordered both officers reinstated to their jobs with back pay. Meanwhile, the Hamilton County Prosecutor's Office decided not to pursue criminal charges against Kidd and Johnson.

Finally a verdict
Linthicum, though, was determined not to be a victim again. She filed a lawsuit against the officers in federal court. She also asked a judge to add the city as a defendant, alleging the police department's disciplinary guidelines were grossly insufficient and allowed no more than a written reprimand for on-duty cops who have sex with an impaired civilian.

U.S. District Court Judge Susan Dlott ultimately denied adding the city as a defendant, but the case against the officers finally went to trial in December 2006 — four years after it was filed. A jury recently found Johnson and Kidd civilly liable for battery and ordered them to pay $10,000 in damages to Linthicum.

"The officers used their police power to prey on her while she was in an extremely vulnerable position, and the jury's verdict recognized that fact," says Jerry H. Shade, Linthicum's lawyer. "I think the officers clearly were acting under the color of state laws. She wouldn't have allowed two strangers to take her home and enter her apartment, but these were public servants in uniform. There was a level of trust."

Despite the verdict, Johnson and Kidd remain on active duty with the Cincinnati Police Department. Johnson patrols District 3, which includes Price Hill and Westwood. Kidd is assigned to District 1, which includes downtown, Over-the-Rhine and the West End; he is part of the Vortex unit, which conducts crackdowns in high-crime areas.

Stephen Lazarus and David Hardin, lawyers for Johnson and Kidd, didn't return repeated telephone calls seeking comment.

Linthicum declined comment for this article. After legal costs, she won't receive much money from the lengthy case, but through Shade she said the verdict was important. First, the lawsuit was necessary to show Johnson and Kidd that their actions have consequences. Moreover, it could make other officers think twice before deciding to take advantage of someone.

"This was something she believed she needed to do," Shade says.

Rogues' gallery
During the trial, Shade tried to show that the police department had an informal, unwritten policy of lax discipline, which creates the belief among officers that they can commit serious misdeeds without fear of consequences. To prove his point, he cited several incidents during the past few years involving local officers. They included:

· Officer Vinnie Edwards, who heard a police radio broadcast for a wanted suspect and realized it was his sister's son. He alerted her that that her son was wanted, later lied to the department's Internal Investigations Unit about it and ignored his duty to search for a suspect so he could order something from a catalog while on duty. Edwards received a three-day suspension, despite having seven previous infractions on his record, two of which resulted in written reprimands.

· Edwards also was involved with an automobile crash that he investigated himself, without authorization. He falsified another officer's name on the report and failed to alert the fire department about possible damage to a fire hydrant because of the crash. He received a two-day suspension for the incident.

· Sgt. David Corlett was involved with an unlawful search and illegal detention of a homeowner's daughter and received a one-day suspension.

· Officer Jeffrey L. Payton had a radio removed from a car in the police impound lot and ordered a jail inmate to install it in Payton's personal vehicle. Although theft in office can be prosecuted as a criminal offense, Payton received a one-day suspension.

· Officer Derrick Edwards was charged with driving under the influence of alcohol in his personal vehicle while off-duty in 2003. Although he received a criminal sentence of 180 days in jail, with 174 suspended upon completion of a driver intervention program, the police department gave him only a one-week suspension from duty.

Part of the reason for the lax punishments is a provision in the police union's contract that stipulates disciplinary actions must be removed from an officer's personnel record after three years. The clause means if an officer is disciplined for punching a suspect, then does the same thing again three years and one month later, the misconduct is treated as a first offense and the previous incident cannot be considered when deciding on a punishment.

"If officers Kidd and Johnson went out and did the same thing tomorrow, what happened to Kandi wouldn't be reflected in their record because it happened so long ago," Shade says. "We're not anti-police. The problem is when you have very selfish officers, which you have in any occupation, when you have officers who abuse their powers, there isn't an effective disciplinary process to corral that behavior.

"If you or I go out and assault someone, you'd better believe the prosecutor is going to have a record of every crime that you or I have been reported of committing or prosecuted."

Also, Linthicum's case tried to show that a peer review panel used for disciplinary actions, in which a panel of officers decides whether a punishment recommended by the chief is appropriate and issues binding decisions, too often results in punishments being reduced.

As an example, Shade cited the case of Officer James Lenos, who was arrested in 1999 and charged with public intoxication and criminal conversion stemming from his actions at a casino. Lenos had five prior disciplinary actions noted in his record at the time. Although the department recommended a two-day suspension, it was reduced to a reprimand by the peer review panel.

Another incident involves Officer Thomas Rambley. In 1998, he failed to inspect his police car, and the next officer to use the vehicle discovered a loaded handgun left there by a person Rambley had arrested. Rambley had four prior disciplinary infractions at the time. The department gave Rambley a three-day suspension, which was reduced to one day after the peer review.

Streicher 'satisfied'
While giving a deposition in the case under oath to lawyers, Police Chief Thomas Streicher Jr. admitted the punishments meted out to officers often is lacking.

"Have I been frustrated at time? Yeah, I've been frustrated with findings at times," he said. "There are times I've had severe disagreements with arbitrators' findings."

In 2003, city council successfully pushed for some changes to the arbitration system during contract negotiations with the FOP. The action occurred after the system had resulted in the reinstatement of all police officers, 11 total, who were fired between 1996 and 2003. They included officers who used excessive force, reported for security details drunk and asked suspects for sex.

One of the most egregious examples of a police officer reinstated to duty was Rolando Underwood, whose supervisors tried to fire him three times over a decade. Underwood was disciplined for leaving a security detail to have sex, investigated for smoking marijuana in his police cruiser and was present at the off-duty shooting death of another officer. Records show he was arrested five times, received eight written reprimands and was suspended from duty at least twice. Each time Underwood's superiors attempted to fire him, the police union defended him and arbitrators ordered him rehired.

Underwood was fired for good in 2000 only when he was convicted of dealing drugs and sentenced to eight years in prison.

Underwood's case isn't the only reinstatement that has caused public outrage.

Officer John Sess was fired in 1997 after he admitted planting a bag of marijuana on a suspect 13 years earlier. An arbitrator ordered Sess' reinstatement in 2001, stating the officer's action was a legitimate tactic. Sess received more than four years' worth of back pay.

Additionally, arbitrators ordered the rehiring of Officer Robert J. Hill III after he was fired in 2000 for slamming a 68-year-old Alzheimer's victim to the floor of a convenience store. The man suffered severe injuries, and the city settled with his family for $700,000. Later Hill was promoted to sergeant.

Despite the incidents, Streicher says the police department's disciplinary process is adequate and blames the media for stirring public anger.

"Currently, I'm very satisfied with the disciplinary process within the police department," he said during his deposition last year. "As I said earlier, misconduct, in fact, serious misconduct, is the exception in our department; it is not the rule. And it's a rare exception when it does occur.

"I think probably the most detrimental fact is that — most detrimental result of those infrequent cases of serious misconduct is that they're highlighted very explicitly in the news media and tend to have a negative effect on the entire organization."

In 2003, a permanent panel of nine arbitrators was created to hear disciplinary disputes, with several members appointed from the Cincinnati area. Arbitrators are assigned to cases on a rotating basis. Supporters contend the change better promotes consistency and fairness in discipline. Because the change still is relatively new, it's unclear whether it will have an effect on police discipline in misconduct cases and reduce the number of reinstatements.

For Shade, the signals sent by the jury's verdict in Linthicum's case is mixed. Although they found Johnson and Kidd guilty of battery, they ruled that the officers' conduct didn't amount to assault. Also, the jury said the cops didn't inflict emotional distress or violate her constitutional rights to due process.

"I'm not sure if this will have any impact," Shade says. "The department didn't have to pay anything, the city didn't have to pay anything. If they did, the taxpayers wouldn't be very happy, and that might motivate the city to make some changes." ©

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