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Nebraska State Patrol head fired; probe findings sent to FBI

FILE - In this April 29, 2015, file photo, Brad Rice, the superintendent of the Nebraska State Patrol, testifies before the Government, Military & Veterans Affairs legislative Committee in Lincoln, Neb. On Friday, June 30, 2017, Gov. Pete Ricketts announced he has fired Rice, the head of the Nebraska State Patrol, and placed six other employees on paid administrative leave after an investigation found "inappropriate conduct" by senior staffers. (AP Photo/Nati Harnik)

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) — Gov. Pete Ricketts fired the head of the Nebraska State Patrol on Friday amid an internal review that was launched after officers were accused of changing their story about a crash that killed a South Dakota driver who was fleeing from a trooper.

The review found evidence that high-ranking patrol staffers interfered with the agency’s internal investigations, Ricketts said at a hastily called news conference.

Ricketts said he had fired Col. Brad Rice as the patrol’s superintendent and placed six other employees on paid administrative leave. He also said his administration turned over its findings to the FBI and the U.S. attorney’s office. He declined to discuss in detail what the review found, citing the potential criminal investigation.

“We will not tolerate that breach of integrity in the Nebraska State Patrol or any of my organizations,” Ricketts said at a Capitol news conference.

Ricketts ordered a review of the patrol’s policies and procedures following criticism last week of how the agency handled an October crash that killed Antoine LaDeaux as the 33-year-old Pine Ridge, South Dakota, man was fleeing from a state trooper in Sheridan County, Nebraska.

State Sen. Ernie Chambers, of Omaha, called on Ricketts to fire Rice after the Omaha World-Herald reported allegations that state patrol officers changed their story about what caused the crash.

A trooper initially reported that he had bumped the fleeing vehicle in an attempt to safely end the chase, and the vehicle swerved off the road. LaDeaux was ejected from the vehicle and died at the scene.

Later, state patrol officers said LaDeaux caused the crash by swerving into the patrol vehicle, which caused him to lose control. A grand jury eventually cleared the trooper, Tim Flick, of wrongdoing after the patrol presented jurors with both versions of what happened.

State Sen. Adam Morfeld, of Lincoln, called on lawmakers to conduct an independent investigation of the patrol.

“Nebraskans deserve and demand accountability and trust in our state’s top law enforcement agency,” he said.

Ricketts said he has appointed Maj. Russ Stanczyk as the patrol’s interim superintendent and will begin a search right away to find a permanent replacement.

The governor said he relieved Rice of his duties Friday morning after Jason Jackson, the state’s chief human resources officer, gave him the findings of an investigation that included personnel interviews and a review of use-of-force case reports. Jackson said he did not talk to Rice directly during his review.

“I rely on my directors to give me information,” Ricketts said. “In this case, (Rice) did not live up to my expectations.”

Ricketts declined to elaborate. Calls to a phone number listed as Rice’s rang unanswered.

Jackson’s review was supposed to have lasted several weeks, but Ricketts said the initial findings prompted him to act sooner.

Jackson said he is still reviewing the patrol’s policies and procedures to identify any additional problems. He said his review didn’t focus on the use-of-force incidents, but on how the patrol handled the internal investigations that followed.

“That’s where irregularities emerged,” he said.

One of the six officers placed on leave was Lt. Col. Thomas Schwarten, the patrol’s second in command, who normally would have been placed in charge in Rice’s absence. Jackson and Ricketts declined to identify the others, citing their due-process rights as state employees covered under a collective bargaining agreement.

Rice’s firing also follows a union survey of state troopers last week that found widespread dissatisfaction among rank-and-file employees with the agency’s management. Ricketts said the survey played no role in his decision to fire Rice.

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