FBI to begin outside investigation of complaints against SCMPD - WTOC-TV: Savannah, Beaufort, SC, News, Weather & Sports

FBI to begin outside investigation of SCMPD allegations

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Chief Willie Lovett Chief Willie Lovett

The FBI is now set to begin investigating complaints against the Savannah-Chatham Metro Police Department.

Thursday morning, WTOC broke the news Savannah's acting city manager was set to release an SCMPD Internal Affairs investigation report into claims of officers falsifying, and in some cases not reporting at all, police crime reports.

The Internal Affairs reports came back to the city manager Wednesday night, city manager Stephanie Cutter and contacted Chief Willie Lovett, according to city spokesman Bret Bell. The report found no wrong doing on the part of officers, but a memo released as part of the report states Cutter still instructed the chief to contact the FBI for an outside investigation.

Thursday morning, the Federal Bureau of Investigations agreed to assist in an outside investigation.

In the Internal Affairs report, 11 complaints were reviewed by the chief of police and investigated by Internal Affairs, who gave a report to the city manager on each complaint.

Three complaints still need to be investigated.

Alderman Van Johnson says an outside investigation is the best decision.

"The best reflection is always self reflection. I think we needed an internal investigation, and I think an outside investigation will add to the public confidence," Johnson said. "An outside agency is perfectly appropriate and if everyone is exonerated it puts this issue to bed."

"I had reservations about Internal Affairs investigating these complaints from the beginning," Tony Thomas, Savannah City Council, told WTOC.

Aldermen Johnson and Thomas first raised the questions publicly about police report complaints and the validity of the 2012 Savannah Crime Stat report. They wondered if statistics were the lowest ever in 2012 because of alleged false reporting on the part of officers.

Thomas says, now, the Internal Affairs investigation and subsequent interviews with complainants, has produced more complaints.

"Folks contacted by IA say they felt bullied by the police department. They put it in writing and plan on leaving the city because of it," Thomas told WTOC.

Thomas says he immediately contacted city manager Stephanie Cutter after receiving the complaint Wednesday night and asked for an outside investigation. In Cutter's report memo, she suggested the Georgia Bureau of Investigations but was told, by charter, that they can only investigate criminal activity and cannot be of assistance" because no crimes were committed.

This lead to the FBI investigation.

Inside the Internal Affairs report, crime reporting issues and complaints happened in three Savannah Districts, including Alderman Johnson's District 1, Thomas' District 6 and Alderwoman Mary Ellen Sprague's District 4.

All 11 complaints reviewed so far show no wrongdoing, including allegations from former Central Precinct officer Steven Hummel, who claimed he was instructed by his commander not to file reports and downgrade charges.

The report indicates Hummel was interviewed but could not name the commander who ordered him to falsify reports, and could only name two specific incidents. In both cases, Internal Affairs found proper protocol was followed. One situation, the report states Hummel claimed an aggravated assault charge was changed. However, the final report shows it was treated and reported as an aggravated assault.

Alderman Johnson hopes, with three more complaints still to be reviewed, an FBI investigation will alleviate doubts, concerns and a lack of confidence in the police department from the public. 

"We need to make sure people feel confident in the what we say and the statistics we give," Johnson said.

"There are too many people expressing concerns for this not to be investigated," Thomas told WTOC.

Neither Cutter, nor Chief Lovett, were available for comment on the FBI investigation or the police Internal Affairs report.

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