Erie Police Chief Steve Franklin has a remarkably distorted view of good police work. After Erie Police officer James Cousins II, 40, in Pennsylvania was shown on a video joking about a murder and tasering someone in an unrelated case, Franklin said it was entirely appropriate to assign Cousins to participate in his own investigation and to find the person who posted his drunken boasting on the Internet.
The video below was posted on YouTube where Cousins uses a bar to talk about an on-going murder investigation and his fun with taserings. Cousins is shown mocking the death throes of an Erie homicide victim, Rondale Jennings Sr., and even mocking the victim’s grief-stricken mother.
Despite the obvious conflict of interest and invitation for abuse, Franklin thought is was a great idea to assign Cousins to his own investigation. Franklin picked James DeDionisio to investigate Cousins. Cousins then drove around with DeDionsio looking for the person who posted the video and caused so much trouble to Cousins and the department.
Cousins was even allowed to interview witnesses who would potentially testify against himself. He interviewed the brother of the man who posted the video who said that Cousins was nearly in tears as he implored the man to try to find a way to remove the video. He also said that DeDionisio threatened him with a federal wiretap prosecution.
Franklin has been overtly defensive throughout this growing scandal, showing little judgment or professionalism. He even expressly public doubt over any threats by DeDionisio without apparently speaking with the witness. Now that is good police work. You send an officer to investigate himself and interview his accusers while publicly criticizing allegations against another officer based presumably on the account of that officer. The allegation against DeDionisio may indeed be false, but it is important for a police chief to allow an investigation to proceed without such assumptions.
Franklin finally suspended Cousins with pay after the newspapers ran the story. Franklin insists that the response of the department to investigate the person who posted the video was the right decision because he needed see if the person has “an ax to grind” against Cousins and .”We all know there’s people who would retaliate against a police officer.” He refer defended the indefensible decision to assigned Cousins’ to track down his own accuser: “I would do that. I would go out and find out who this guy is.”
Obviously, the first person who needs to be fired is Erie Police Chief Steve Franklin who has no business holding any position of authority in a law enforcement organization. Traffic duty, perhaps.
Even if DeDionsio wanted Cousins there to identify the person, it would be improper in my view. He can be shown a picture without bringing the accused to the accuser — particularly a police officer. The accused could obviously be intimidated by the scene of other officers tracking him down and then showing the accused officer who his accuser is and where he lives. Moreover, having the accused officer speak to the accuser or witness is an obvious abuse. Finally, it is not clear why the police gave the highest priority to finding the accuser with Cousins as opposed to the content of the video. The primary response of the police appeared to try to force the removal of the embarrassing video from YouTube. This was a video taken in a public place. There is no crime here and the motivation of the person is irrelevant to determining if Cousins acted improperly.
I have been a critic of punishing officers and teachers for their off-duty conduct and lifestyle. However, in this case, Cousins is discussing an ongoing murder investigation and mocking victims in public. That makes it a legitimate matter for police investigation. However, I am far more concerned about the investigating officers and their conduct. The greatest concern is that continuation of Franklin in a position of authority.
For the video, click here.
For the full story, click here.