Police officer exonerated

LIBERTY – A Liberty police sergeant was exonerated of charges Wednesday after an internal affairs investigation claimed he lied about manipulating a security camera. He also has agreed to retire from the force.

Sgt. Dan Nichols, a 26-year member of the force, faced charges of misuse of police equipment, neglect of duty, lack of truthfulness, failure to comply with departmental rules, and malfeasance after moving a security camera’s focus away from garages in the police station parking lot.

In a letter addressed to Nichols dated Wednesday, Liberty Township Administrator Pat Ungaro said that “the Board of Trustees has determined that no disciplinary action in this matter is justified. The board, after consultation with the chief of police and me, has decided to close this matter. As such, you are hereby exonerated of any and all known allegations.”

According to Ungaro and Liberty police Chief Richard Tisone, Nichols will retire Oct. 8. Ungaro said Wednesday’s decision was the best option for both parties.

“Here’s a (26-year) veteran on the force, and do you really want to fire someone like that?” Ungaro said. “I know that’s an uncomfortable situation for me, so we took into consideration the time he had and his retirement date and we saw this as the best way out.”

Trustee Jodi Stoyak noted that it made more sense for retirement than to pursue termination.

“You hate to fire somebody because we’ve tried this before, and it ends up being a huge expense,” Stoyak said. “Usually, whoever was fired ends up getting their job back, so it (is beneficial) to get an agreement settled for both sides and to just move on.”

Nichols declined comment Wednesday evening.

In a letter sent to the Liberty Township Board of Trustees on Dec. 11, Tisone said he observed the camera, which is supposed to face the police parking lot and west side of the building, instead pointed at the trees and front lawn of the administration building.

“This camera provides security for the officers coming and going to work, as well as a 24-hour monitoring of the parking lot and rear entrance to the police department,” Tisone said. “The camera also records Garage 6 and 5, which stores a large amount of evidence.”

No evidence was reported missing.

According to an internal affairs review board report, Nichols told a three-member panel on Jan. 21 that on Dec. 10, he moved the camera to point at garage Door 7 because he had noticed it opened at different times and was concerned that it was being intentionally left open. Nichols was also recorded moving the camera on Dec. 11 by building surveillance.

Nichols admitted that he did not have the ability to review the surveillance footage, causing investigators to question his motives for moving the camera.

The review board determined that the camera already was recording the door Nichols wanted to monitor.

“The investigators have no truthful idea why Sergeant Nichols moved the camera on Dec. 10, 2013, and again on Dec. 11, 2013, because his very adamant reason of moving the camera to see Door 7 has to be false due to the fact that it was already capturing Door 7,” the report states.

In a letter dated March 10, trustees informed Nichols of their offer of retirement.

The board noted that it believed Nichols’ credibility was compromised, and that ”severely impacts your ability to perform your job in the investigation and prosecution of criminal acts, as it would bring into issue the truthfulness of your testimony in court for which your testimony would be crucial to obtain a conviction.”

However, in the final correspondence between Ungaro and Nichols, the township administrator asked that Nichols disregard the opinions of the board regarding his ability to perform the duties of his job.