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Indicted officers are still working in Dexter

Thursday, February 21, 2002

DEXTER - Two of Dexter's top police officers remain on the job nearly a month after a Stoddard County grand jury indicted them on criminal felonies involving another officer who pleaded guilty to statutory rape and deviant sexual intercourse.

At least one officer says the city's decision to let the two continue working in the department in plain clothes is disrupting to police and the community.

"Apparently, it is obvious to me that the city council and the mayor's office can't make a decision on this, on what to do," said Sgt. Granville Gregory, a 20-year veteran of the department. "Nobody is doing anything down there."

Some members of the board of aldermen and Mayor John Pruitt maintain that the officers, Chief Ken Rinehart and Sgt. Sammy Stone, have not been convicted and rushing to judgment would be a mistake.

"I want to make it clear right now that until I have all the details on this thing, until anybody is convicted, I'm not going to vote to fire anybody for any reason," Alderman Tim Crutchfield said. "There is a law in this town that you're innocent until you're proven guilty."

But until Dexter city officials or a court decides how to handle the indicted chief and sergeant, public perception of the department remains negative.

"The public's view of us being honest and truthful police, our image has really been damaged in the public's eye," Gregory said. "We hear it from the public all the time."

Rinehart and Stone are charged with the Class D felony of hindering prosecution in connection with former police officer Robert Kennedy.

Kennedy pleaded guilty in September to two class C felonies of statutory rape and a class C felony of deviant sexual intercourse. The charges stemmed from sexual encounters by Kennedy with two 16-year-old girls he met while working as a patrolman and a 40-year-old woman.

Since the indictments were handed down, Rinehart and Stone have been placed on administrative duty, Pruitt said.

Rinehart is dealing with all of the department's paperwork, Pruitt said, with the exception of anything involving personnel. "You've got a whole fleet of cars to keep going, buildings to keep up," the mayor said.

With Rinehart on administrative duty, Pruitt appointed Lt. Paul Haubold as acting police chief.

Haubold, who was the department's assistant chief, runs day-to-day operations of the police department.

"Chief Rinehart and Sammy are both on administrative desk duty handling daily paperwork chores," Haubold said. "Me and him flip-flopped."

Specifically, Haubold said Rinehart is dealing with vehicle maintenance, the jail and building maintenance. He is also handling the racial profiling documents and other monthly reports that go to state and federal agencies.

Stone is in charge of the officers' training, Haubold said.

Having Rinehart in the same office creates administrative confusion, Gregory said.

"How can you have the chief of police in the same building, but he's not the chief, Haubold's the chief? ... Who's the real chief?"

Discussions by elected officials were lengthy about how Stone and Rinehart should be treated, Pruitt said. He cited a city ordinance that allows the city manager to relieve employees from duty for indictments, arrests, or disregard for regulations. Pruitt noted that the ordinance says an employee may be taken off his job, but it did not require removal.

"We're letting the legal system take care of the situation. ... and see what comes out of that," said Alderman Mark Snider.

Pruitt does not believe that residents are blaming the whole department for the mistakes of some.

"They just wonder about the administration," Pruitt said. "I don't think it's any reflection on the individual officers."

Gregory disagrees.

"We've been called names," he said. "We still get called names. I'm not going to say what."

But even after the city or courts act, the department's reputation will still be damaged.

"Things like this don't go away overnight," Gregory said.