Report from Springfield attorney finds no violations against Copley, Yates, Board of Fire and Police Commissioners

Yates-and-Troup-shake-hands

Quincy Mayor Mike Troup, left, shakes hands with Adam Yates after swearing him in as the chief of police on June 20, 2022. | MRN FIle photo by David Adam

QUINCY — A 283-page report on the investigation into complaints made against former Quincy Police Department Chief Rob Copley, current Chief Adam Yates and the Board of Fire and Police Commissioners concludes no wrongdoing was discovered.

The report, dated Dec. 15 and compiled by Rick Stewart of the Stewart Law Firm in Springfield, was released by city officials Wednesday afternoon to the media.

The report said Sgt. Nick Hiland of the Quincy Police Department met with Jeff Mays, director of administrative services, and Carrie Potter, director of human resources, on Nov. 14, 2022. Hiland alleged Yates, who had been promoted to the position of chief six months earlier, had violated the following policies:

  • Law Enforcement Code of Ethics (“I will never act officiously or permit personal feelings, prejudices, animosities or friendships influence my decisions”)
  • Quincy Police Department Policy 205.5 (All department personnel are responsible for disseminating and sharing appropriate information received … to the appropriate department personnel or units.)
  • Quincy Police Department Policy 315 (discriminatory harassment)
  • Quincy Police Department Policy 1004 (anti-retaliation)

Hiland’s complaints were:

  • Copley and Yates disseminated and used an agency development proposal that was the proprietary information of Hiland;
  • The Board of Fire and Police Commissioners changed the criteria for applying for the position of chief of the Quincy Police Department to benefit Yates; 
  • Copley communicated directly with the Board of Fire and Police Commissioners to influence the three members to change the criteria for chief of the Quincy Police Department to allow Yates to apply.

Hiland said the alleged violations happened between October 2019, when he applied for a deputy chief position through his application for chief of police, and September 2022 when he applied for deputy chief. Stewart signed a contract with the city on Feb. 3 to perform the investigation.

Allegation of proprietary information

Stewart met on Feb. 22 in Springfield with Hiland, who said he met with R.T. Finney, a former deputy chief with the Quincy Police Department, on Feb. 20, 2019, at a restaurant in Moline. At the time, Finney was the interim chief of the Moline Police Department. Hiland, an officer at the time, said he had known Finney as a teenager and considered him a mentor.

Hiland told Finney he wanted to be the next chief of the Quincy Police Department after Copley retired. Finney offered advice and guidance about the process to become the next chief. He also offered to write a letter of recommendation.

Hiland applied for a deputy chief position with the Quincy Police Department on Oct. 13, 2019. During an interview, he supplied Copley with a copy of a document with ideas he had regarding agency development. One was to have the police department be the host of community barbecues to “create positive community interaction.”

Hiland emailed an agency development proposal to Finney on May 8, 2021. An idea in the document was for block parties and barbecues to “foster relationships with some of the high-crime communities.”

As part of his June 7, 2021, response to Hiland’s email, Finney said if he were part of the interviewing process, “(he) would be interested how (Hiland) attempted to implement these ideas within (the police department).”

“Have you worked with others and included the input of those who operate in the positions that would be affected by these changes?” Finney wrote. “If I were interviewing you with this document in front of me, I would ask if you have explored these ideas with the current chief of police, deputy chiefs or others within your line of command for input.”

Later that same day, Finney forwarded to Copley the email he sent to Hiland. He also wrote, “Here is what I sent Nick and what was sent to me. I tried to be honest, and honestly I don’t know what is going on internally. But if I can’t adequately evaluate what he is proposing, I am not sure a civilian commission will understand what value these have. Just my (two cents).”

“Thanks. You hit the nail on the head about whether he has explored his new ideas with the chiefs,” Copley wrote in an email on the afternoon of June 8, 2021. “With small exception, he has not. He is a recruiter. Why has he not tried to implement his great ideas now to benefit the department? Solidifies my opinion that he is self-centered and just out for number one.”

Copley forwarded Hiland’s proposal to Lt. Shannon Pilkington and Yates on June 8, 2021.

Three days later, Yates sent an email to Travis Wiemelt, Justin Boyd, Kelly Vandermaiden, Deb Beebe and Gail Newell saying he wanted the “QPD Grill Squad” to make its debut on July 6, 2021.

Stewart says document was ‘public record’

Stewart determined the proposal was “not necessarily” proprietary information of Hiland.

“There is no evidence that Hiland intended to retain ownership of the intellectual property in the proposal at the time it was emailed to Finney,” Stewart wrote. “If the information is not proprietary, then it was, as a matter of law, fair for Copley and Yates to use the information.”

Stewart also noted Hiland did not ask Finney to keep the report confidential. He said there is no legal privilege between a mentor and a mentee.

Stewart said the proposal became “public record” when Finney emailed it to Copley, who was still the chief of the Quincy Police Department at the time. Copley didn’t announce his plan to retire until Dec. 13, 2021. Once Copley received the document, it was “public record.”

When addressing if it was appropriate for Copley to disseminate the proposal, Stewart said that is “a decision for the city to determine.” However, since Copley no longer is an employee, “there will be little, if any, ramifications,” Stewart wrote.

Stewart said his investigation revealed the idea of the community barbecues had been presented to Copley years before and Hiland had no “ownership” of the idea.

Starting to look for Copley’s replacement

Copley told the Board of Fire and Police Commissioners during its July 9, 2021, meeting that he was looking tentatively at retiring in May 2022. He said he would make a final decision “by the end of the year.” Stewart reported that the minutes of the Aug. 4, 2021, meeting of the Board of Fire and Police Commissioners showed a succession plan for Copley was discussed, but no details were available. 

Copley told the commissioners he would look into the availability of options similar to the Illinois Fire Chiefs Association for the Quincy Fire Department for them to possibly use for a future process.

Quincy Mayor Mike Troup requested a special meeting of the Board of Fire and Police Commissioners on Oct. 4, 2021, to discuss amendments involved in creating the process for the selection of the next police chief. Stewart said minutes from that meeting didn’t detail the process, but it reflected the following:

  • The commissioners would review candidates “up front.”
  • A five-person search committee would be formed. It would include the mayor, a commissioner, a Democratic alderman, a Republican alderman and a community member.
  • The search committee would do the final interviews and then select a candidate to be presented to the City Council.

Stewart reviewed the most current job description for the chief of police job which was dated December 2021. It did not contain requirements for minimum education or supervisory experience.

Changing the job requirements for police chief requested

Hiland attended the Jan. 5, 2022, meeting of the Board of Fire and Police Commissioners. According to the minutes, he asked if a set of requirements for the job had been decided on. The commissioners said they were “working on those” but had not come to a final decision.

When the announcement of the job opening for chief of police was released on Feb. 8, 2022, requirements for the appointment included:

  • A minimum of 15 years of experience as a sworn law enforcement officer, with five years of supervisory experience and two years of command-level experience.
  • An associate degree plus completion of an internationally recognized police command/executive level development program.
  • Preferred education of a bachelor’s degree of completion of 124 credit hours from a college or university. 

Discussions about new criteria for people to apply to be chief of police were held during the Feb. 10, 2022, meeting of the Board of Fire and Police Commissioners. Sgt. Adam Gibson noted three areas of concern:

  • The requirements of specific education/training are only available to current police administration members approved to get the training.
  • The education requirements and command experience for the position of chief of police differ from the process the city used to hire Bernie Vahlkamp as fire chief in July 2021.
  • Ordinance 40.087 said it should allow the opportunity for all officers, regardless of rank, qualifications or education, to apply for the position.

Hiland told the commissioners the job requirements would limit internal candidates to the two deputy chiefs and three lieutenants. According to minutes from the meeting, Hiland said he wouldn’t fit the job description. However, his “experience, reputation and countless acts of formal and informal leadership” demonstrated his capability to assume a formal leadership role as the police chief.

Troup said he wanted to see the commission consider changing the job requirements. He wanted to see “20-plus people” apply for the position.

Cheyne ‘listened to voices from last meeting’ to revise job description

An updated job description was provided during the Feb. 18, 2022, meeting of the Board of Fire and Police Commissioners. Troup said he was concerned the description was changed (and posted) by the commissioners without having someone approve the changes. He wanted the Police Aldermanic Committee to review the changes so the City Council could approve them.

According to the minutes of the meeting, Commission Chairman Barry Cheyne said he “reviewed other job postings and listened to the voices from the last meeting to come to the revised version.”

The job announcement was revised and re-released on Feb. 18, 2022. Requirements for the appointment as police chief included:

  • A minimum of 15 years of experience as a sworn law enforcement officer, with progressively responsible police experience preferred.
  • Experience in patrol, investigations, resource management and supervision preferred.
  • An associate degree was required, while a bachelor’s degree and/or master’s degree desired.

The job description also was changed, adding the following: “The chief of police reports directly to the mayor of Quincy. The chief of police oversees areas of the Quincy Police Department.”

The Board of Fire and Police Commissioners met May 2, 2022, and selected Jonathan Lewin as the chief of police. He was offered a six-month probationary period contract. Commissioners also elected to name Yates the chief of police if Lewin didn’t accept the position.

Lewin eventually turned down the position, and Yates was named chief of police on May 13, 2022.

Changing criteria allowed Yates, Hiland to apply

In his analysis of Hiland’s complaints about the hiring process, Stewart said Yates could not apply under the original Feb. 8, 2022, criteria posted for the job. He also noted Hiland told the Board of Fire and Police Commissioners on Feb. 10, 2022, that he also wouldn’t fit the job description.

Stewart said Hiland asked the commissioners to reconsider the requirements to allow for a more diverse pool of applicants. He noted Troup told the commissioners he believed the qualifications were too restrictive and asked them to consider changing them to broaden the potential pool of applicants.

“The crux of the issue is the motivation of the Board of Fire and Police Commissioners for making the change,” Stewart wrote. “The allegation is: ‘The Board of Fire and Police Commissioners changed the criteria for applying for the position of chief of the Quincy Police Department to benefit Yates.’ 

“It is clear the change did benefit Adam Yates. It also benefited Nick Hiland and other members of the Quincy Police Department, and it was done after requests from Troup and Hiland. This fact was acknowledged at the Feb. 18, 2022, meeting. Cheyne stated part of the decision to change was because he ‘listened to the voices from the last meeting in order to come to the revised version.’ … It was made to open the pool to more applicants, of whom Yates was just one of the beneficiaries.”

Stewart said he could not determine if Copley tried to influence the Board of Fire and Police Commissioners to change the job criteria to allow Yates to apply. 

“However, any attempted influence was not the reason for the change in criteria,” he wrote.

Stewart said Copley and Yates knew the criteria on Feb. 8, 2022, before it was released to the public. A text chat group called “Chief Chat — Personal” detailed a conversation on Feb. 6, 2022, between Copley and Yates. At one point, Copley told Yates to “check out the requirements.” Yates said he looked at them and “they sound oddly familiar.”

“It is very likely Copley and Yates knew or were at least familiar with what the initial requirements would be before they were released,” Stewart wrote. “The extent of their involvement in the development of the initial qualification is not readily evident based on the available documents.

“Under the initial requirements, Yates did not qualify. … If Copley knew Yates was excluded and wanted to get that changed, he could have communicated with the Board of Fire and Police Commissioners. Whatever Copley’s motives for any communication that may have occurred, those alone would not be the reason for the change. Others wanted it changed as well, including Hiland.”

The Quincy City Council authorized spending up to $25,000 on the investigation. Mays told aldermen at the Dec. 11 City Council meeting that the total was around $17,000 to $18,000 if they paid a $4,281 bill in front of them that night. Aldermen eventually agreed not to pay Stewart’s most recent invoice.

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