After a seven-month internal investigation, the Cincinnati Police Department finally released its findings last week from a probe into whether Lt. Col. Michael Cureton, an assistant police chief, improperly offered a free police escort for R&B singer Jamie Foxx in exchange for 40 concert tickets. The tickets’ combined value was more than $2,700.
Police launched the investigation in August after the vice president for operations at U.S. Bank Arena mentioned to a police officer that the producer of Foxx’s concert tour told him about the trade-off deal offered by Cureton. Noting “it was unusual for one person to get 40 tickets free of charge,” the arena executive asked the tour producer who was receiving the tickets and was told “the chief of police,” according to the report.
In fact, the executive’s further questioning revealed the request wasn’t made by Police Chief Thomas Streicher Jr. but was instead made by Cureton, who might have misrepresented himself.
The executive told investigators U.S. Bank Arena doesn’t provide free tickets to anyone, including police. Rather, police, vendors and employees have the opportunity to buy “building hold” tickets, which are better seats than available to the general public but aren’t offered at a discount. Concert promoters, however, can issue as many free tickets as they like, because those tickets affect the promoter’s profit.
Besides the unusual request for the large bloc of tickets, the executive also knew that Foxx hadn’t requested any police escort for his appearance.
Ultimately, 40 tickets were left under the name “Cureton” at the arena’s will call window. Asked how Cureton was able to get the free tickets, the arena’s general manager — after questioning people connected with the show — learned Cureton got a telephone number for a tour producer from Mayor Mark Mallory’s office.
“(The tour’s street promoter) gave an individual from the mayor’s office, known only by the first name of Jason, Mr. (Kyle) Newport’s telephone number and Jason gave Lt. Col. Cureton Mr. Newport’s telephone number,” the report states. In an e-mail sent later by Newport, he said the tickets were for a “Mike Curecon,” who was the police chief.
Later in the investigation, police interviewed Jason Barron, Mallory’s communications director, who denied ever talking to anyone about the Foxx concert.
The Police Department’s internal investigators tried several times to contact the California-based Newport for an interview, but he never responded to a letter, two e-mails or a request sent by fax.
On a side note, Mallory got four tickets for the Aug. 15 concert free of charge, but he didn’t request them.
The report states: “(The street marketer) invited Mayor Mallory to attend the Jamie Foxx show to act as an ambassador from the city of Cincinnati and to ensure Mayor Mallory had access backstage to meet Mr. Foxx. (The marketer) believed Mr. Foxx wanted to meet Mayor Mallory prior to the show so Mr. Foxx could talk to Mayor Mallory about the Cincinnati Reds opening day pitch.”
During his interview with investigators, Cureton said he took the tickets but offered to pay $1,000 for them. Promoters didn’t return his calls, he added, and Cureton thought he was getting the perk because his family was selected as “Family of the Year” at the annual Black Family Reunion event, which was underway at the time.
But Cureton said he never claimed to be the police chief (despite Newport’s e-mails), never offered Foxx a free police escort and never used his position to obtain any personal benefit.
In October investigators presented the case to the Hamilton County Prosecutor’s Office to consider possible criminal charges. Three months later, Prosecutor Joe Deters declined prosecution and recommended it be handled administratively.
It’s unclear why — if Deters declined prosecution on Jan. 19 — it took nearly another two months for the Internal Investigations report to be given to the chief and the public or why the case has lingered so long.
Investigators examined whether Cureton violated two rules.
The first prohibits public employees from accepting fees or gifts from anyone seeking to do business with the city; the second prohibits the employees from “merely accepting an improper thing of value” and doesn’t require the use of their job to secure it.
Because the executive who first notified police never received a first-hand request from Cureton and Newport never responded to calls, investigators cleared Cureton of possibly violating the first rule. But because Cureton received the tickets, they found he violated the second.
Streicher will review the findings and determine what, if any, discipline is warranted.
Cureton, 55, is one of five assistant chiefs in the Police Department and is its highest-ranking African-American officer. He joined the department in 1973 and currently oversees its Investigations Bureau.
The other assistant chiefs are Cindy Combs, Vincent Demasi, Richard Janke and James Whalen, all of whom are white.
Streicher’s command staff has been roiled by controversy in recent months, including allegations of cronyism on the mounted patrol, where the chief’s wife worked until she got a disability retirement. Also, Janke asked Streicher to discipline Cureton in January after a flare-up involving Janke’s girlfriend, Capt. Kimberly Frey.
Frey, who is District 3 commander, was upset that Cureton questioned her about crime in her district and complained to the chief. She filed a second complaint the next day, after Cureton sat next to her at a meeting, stating she felt intimidated. Cureton replied with a memo denying Frey’s accusations and questioning her personal relationship with Janke. That prompted a memo from Janke alleging Cureton hurt his reputation.
Oh, dear. All of this might be humorous if it weren’t for the fact these officials deal with matters of life and death on a near-daily basis. Their salaries are paid using taxpayer dollars, and their shenanigans surely hurt the morale of lower-ranking officers.
Then there’s the matter of Lt. Col. Ronald Twitty, an assistant police chief who had been the city’s top African-American officer before Cureton’s promotion. In summer 2002 Streicher suspended Twitty for allegedly filing a false report about an overnight hit-and-run accident involving a city-issued vehicle, causing $3,300 in damage. Streicher believed Twitty had a fender bender and tried to cover up the incident.
Twitty later resigned under threat of criminal indictment.
It’s well known that Streicher likely will retire late next year, and the assistant chiefs are jockeying to replace him. Thankfully, voters approved a charter amendment in 2001 that allows the city manager to hire someone from outside current ranks to replace him. After several years, the amendment survived a legal challenge filed by the police union.
If ever a fresh perspective and saner head was needed in the Police Department, it’s now.
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