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WICS 20 :: News - Ready, Set, Shred - Who Requested Cliff Buscher's File?

Who Requested Cliff Buscher's File?

This story aired July 22, 2013.

THE STORY:
As our eight-week investigation, Ready, Set, Shred, unfolded last week, one question many of you have been asking is, why did Calvin Christian want Deputy Chief Cliff Buscher's Internal Affairs file concerning the 2008 Missouri trip?

You'll remember Christian filed a Freedom of Information Act request asking for that file just weeks before it was shredded. Turns out you've been asking the right question--but to the wrong person.

Springfield Police Lt. Wendell "Kurt" Banks is the right person to ask about why Buscher's Internal Affairs file was in demand. Here's why: Calvin Christian wasn't the first person to ask for the Buscher file. Banks was.

Banks sent his own FOIA request to the city on March 8 of this year. The request reads: "I am respectfully requesting a complete copy of the IA investigation against Deputy Chief Cliff Buscher in March 2008. The incident being investigated involved Buscher being arrested for firing his department-issued firearm while intoxicated. I would like a copy of everything in the IA file and all department memos, e-mails, or other documentation related to this event. If you have questions, please give me a call."

Sources close to Banks tell Newschannel 20 that Banks wanted Buscher's file regarding the 2008 Missouri event because Banks felt he needed to protect himself from Buscher should he become top cop after Chief Robert Williams retired.

Banks knew that under the original police union contract, Buscher's Internal Affairs file was eligible to be shredded on July 14. But why did Banks feel he needed protection from Buscher? You'll remember that in our first report last Monday, we detailed what was in Buscher's Internal Affairs file that the police department destroyed on April 25.

Those statements obtained by Newschannel 20 contained serious allegations about Buscher concerning gun play, drinking, and idle threats of violence. It was detailed information never before made public about Buscher's alleged misconduct on the night of March 22, 2008. And one of the people who made those serious allegations to Internal Affairs was Banks. In fact, sources tell Newschannel 20 that Banks feels his career stalled after making those statements about Buscher in 2008.

Banks was a lieutenant in 2008, and he is still a lieutenant to this day. Buscher, who was suspended for 30 days and demoted to lieutenant from the rank of commander in 2008, was promoted two years later in 2010 from lieutenant over the rank of commander to the second-highest rank in the department, deputy chief.

Williams made that promotion even though he knew some, if not all, of what was contained in Buscher's file, because Williams--who was assistant chief at the time--took part in some of the questioning of those involved, including then-Commander Buscher.

Fast forward now from March 8 of this year to April 8. Banks is sent a letter from the office of the corporation counsel, Mark Cullen. It denies most of Banks' FOIA request for Buscher's file.

Banks is given two documents. One only details Buscher's punishment as a result of the 2008 incident. The second gives Banks his statement that he made to Internal Affairs. It's the same statement we showed you last week.

Banks was granted this information, the letter says, not under FOIA, but under the Uniform Peace Officers' Disciplinary Act. Banks is denied everything else in Buscher's Internal Affairs file because the city stated employee disciplinary cases are "exempt" from FOIA disclosure.

April 11: now enter police blogger Calvin Christian. According to his lawyer, Don Craven, Christian stumbles upon Banks' FOIA request.

"He, like many reporters, shop the city's FOIA website looking for information," Craven said.

This is the city's public FOIA website. It shows who made the request, the date, and what that person is looking for. Our Vince DeMentri submitted a request to the city on June 19. According to Craven, Christian saw Banks' request and submitted his own FOIA. The language in Christian's request is almost word-for-word identical to Banks' request.

Then, on April 18, Christian is sent this letter from the city telling him it needed more time to review Buscher's Internal Affairs and that they would get back to him no later than April 25.

On April 25, Christian receives this letter about Buscher's file regarding the Missouri incident. Quote: "The Springfield Police Department has no documents responsive to your request."

That's because on the same day, the police department destroyed that file, along with some 30 others, after a change was made to the police union contract allowing for the immediate shredding of Buscher's file, along with the others. But why go to those lengths? Why didn't the city just reject Christian's request for Buscher's file on the basis that it was FOIA-exempt, as it had done when rejecting Banks' request for Buscher's file?

We contacted the city's communications director, Nathan Mihelich, who has been assigned to be the point man in addressing all questions surrounding the shredding controversy, and asked him that question.

In an e-mail, he said, "The Illinois Office of the State's Attorney Appellate Prosecutor is investigating this exact matter. Because of their ongoing investigation, the City can make no official comment."

Christian's attorney thinks he knows that answer. He said it's because Christian has been denied in the past by the Springfield Police Department on other FOIA requests, and Judge Schmidt ruled against them last week.

As you may know, in the wake of our special investigation, Williams and chief city attorney Mark Cullen announced their sudden departures Friday. Williams will retire, and Cullen resigned.

Who Requested Cliff Buscher's File?

Wednesday, April 23 2014, 10:23 AM CDT

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