LINCOLN — The chairwoman of the Legislature's Judiciary Committee has filed requests via the state's public records disclosure law to get information on Nebraska State Patrol actions that could potentially be violations of law or prompt legislation.
Sen. Laura Ebke sent the letters Friday to Gov. Pete Ricketts, Attorney General Doug Peterson, state Human Resources Chief Jason Jackson and Col. John Balduc, the State Patrol's new superintendent.
The public information request was a response to an October letter sent to Ebke by Omaha Sen. Burke Harr and Sen. Paul Schumacher of Columbus. Their request came after the attorney general chose not to appoint a special prosecutor to investigate the actions that led to the firing of former patrol Superintendent Brad Rice.
Harr had been thwarted in his attempts to get more information from the Ricketts administration and to get Peterson to appoint a special prosecutor to look into the events surrounding Rice's dismissal.
Ebke has said that because of widely reported and troubling facts about the incidents within the patrol, the concerns expressed by Harr and Schumacher, and Peterson's conclusion that his office lacks legal authority to pursue the matter, the Legislature may need to pursue more fully its responsibility to oversee and hold state agencies accountable.
Harr had also sent letters to several county attorneys about appointing special attorneys in their jurisdictions to investigate actions taken by officers and administrators of the patrol there.
District Judge Travis O'Gorman appointed attorney Joe Stecher on Oct. 6 to investigate events in Sheridan County.
In her letter, Ebke asked Ricketts and the others for communications regarding:
• Medical examinations of patrol employees and prospective employees by Lincoln Dr. Stephen Haudrich, who was selected to perform physical exams for patrol applicants.
A trooper sued the state in August saying women were put through medically unnecessary and sexually invasive examinations to get jobs with the agency that were not required of men.
Brienne Splittgerber, who was part of the patrol's graduating class in 2015, said in the lawsuit she got no assurances from State Patrol leaders that they would stop the exams after she reported what happened during her required, pre-employment physical.
Omaha Sen. Ernie Chambers followed up with a complaint with the state's professional and occupational investigations office against the doctor.
• The March 4, 2016, event in which Brian Davis, after being pulled over, was struck by Trooper Lindsey Bixby with the butt of a rifle in Sioux County.
According to an Omaha World-Herald report, Davis, a Colorado man, led Nebraska state troopers on an hourlong high-speed chase and appeared so intoxicated or impaired when he finally emerged from his car he had trouble standing. He put his hands up but did not comply with a command to get down on the ground. A video then showed Bixby, who has since resigned, hitting Davis on the side of his head with a rifle butt.
• The Oct. 23, 2016, pursuit and motor vehicle collision involving Trooper Timothy Flick that led to the death of Antoine Ledeaux.
The trooper was cleared of any wrongdoing by a grand jury, but questions have been raised about whether there was internal interference in how the State Patrol report of the accident was framed.
• Requests and investigations by Jackson into the conduct and review of the patrol and its administration.
• The governor's June 30 decision to terminate Brad Rice's employment as superintendent.
• The governor's decision to place on paid administrative leave Capt. Jamey Balthazor, Trooper Timothy Flick, Maj. Mike Gaudreault, Lt. Col. Thomas Schwarten, Sgt. Travis Wallace and Sgt. Kevin Waugh.
"Our goal really, that we've told the administration, is that we don't want to prosecute through the committee. We don't want to litigate through the committee," Ebke said Friday. "We just want to find out if there's some possible fixes through legislation."
And she wants to be prepared if a special meeting of the committee is needed.
The committee is interested in the conflict of interest declared by the attorney general, and if there's something that can be done in the future to avoid that problem, she said.
Ricketts has said he turned over information on the events that led to Rice's dismissal and the suspensions to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, but that agency only deals with federal laws.
So Ebke said the bigger question is, if there are potential federal violations, are there potential state violations as well? And who prosecutes violations of state statutes? Peterson has said that he can't because of the conflict.
Ebke said she would like to see a more streamlined approach to such questionable issues involving a state agency, rather than leave it up to individual counties where events took place to look at each incident individually.