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Merit board reinstates NIU police lieutenant

Published: Thursday, Sept. 12, 2013 7:11 p.m. CDT • Updated: Friday, Sept. 13, 2013 12:35 a.m. CDT

DeKALB – A Northern Illinois University police lieutenant punished for failing to give prosecutors two witness statements in a rape case could return to work next week after a merit board sided with him.

The University Civil Service Merit Board voted Tuesday to throw out the disciplinary charges against Lt. Kartik Ramakrishnan, with a majority finding that NIU leaders couldn’t fire him because former Chief Donald Grady had already written him up in the incident, Ramakrishnan’s attorney Howard Levine said.

NIU officials could appeal the decision in DeKalb County Circuit Court, but Levine did not know if they planned to do so. NIU spokesman Paul Palian said NIU officials had not received the merit board’s written decision late Thursday.

“As of today, he is not in his position and is not on the university’s active payroll,” Palian said. “We await the merit board’s written order, the substance of which we are unaware at this time. This remains a personnel matter, and the university cannot comment further at this point.”

Levine said Ramakrishnan wants to return to work when the merit board issues a written order, likely next week, Levine said. Ramakrishnan, who was hired in April 2002, made $92,000 annually. If he is awarded back-pay for the past five months, he could receive more than $38,000.

“It’s been a significant hardship on him and his wife, but he’s looking forward to resuming a successful and productive career with NIU,” Levine said.

NIU officials could appeal the decision in DeKalb County Circuit Court, but Levine did not know if they planned to do so. NIU spokesman Paul Palian did not return calls for comment, and Bill Nicklas, NIU’s vice president for public safety and community relations, declined to comment.

The merit board’s decision seemed to turn on Grady’s written reprimand, which was issued the same day former NIU President John Peters gave control of the university’s police department to Nicklas. Grady issued the written reprimand Nov. 9, and Grady and Ramakrishnan were put on paid leave the next day.

Grady was fired Feb. 19, and Ramakrishnan was notified of the university’s intent to fire him and later removed from the payroll in April.

The disciplinary action against both leaders centered on two NIU students who talked with them about a rape case pending against former NIU police officer Andrew Rifkin, 25, now of Northbrook. A woman claimed Rifkin raped her in his Cortland apartment while he was off-duty Oct. 14, 2011, and reported the incident about two weeks later.

Later, two of her friends told Grady and Ramakrishnan that they believed the encounter was consensual based on what the alleged victim told them and how the alleged victim acted when Rifkin stopped returning her text messages and was seen with other women. Ramakrishnan took statements from the two women but placed them in Rifkin’s internal personnel file rather than giving them to prosecutors.

DeKalb County Presiding Judge Robbin Stuckert ruled Nov. 2 that NIU police intentionally withheld the evidence favorable to Rifkin from prosecutors, and a week later, ruled that jurors could learn about police officers’ actions if the case went to trial. Then-State’s Attorney Clay Campbell dropped the charge against Rifkin; the charge was later reinstated by State’s Attorney Richard Schmack, who defeated Campbell in November’s election.

The case remains pending, and is next due in court Oct. 23. Rifkin has pleaded not guilty.

During a Nov. 2 hearing, Ramakrishnan said he “made a very, very bad mistake” by putting the statements in the personnel file. He said his failure to write a police report about his conversation with the two witnesses, as would be customary, was an oversight.

But during a civil service discharge conference March 29, Ramakrishnan said he believed the two statements were related to Rifkin’s firing, and not the criminal matter, according to an April 11 memo from Jesse Perez, NIU Human Resource Services’ director of labor.

Perez also warned Steven Cunningham, NIU’s acting executive vice president for business and finance, that “industrial double jeopardy” could complicate the university’s efforts to fire Ramakrishnan, according to the April 11 memo. Industrial double jeopardy prohibits employees from being penalized twice for the same offense.

“The former Chief of Police was within his scope of authority to issue corrective action against Lt. Ramakrishnan on Nov. 9, 2012, for mishandling witness statements,” Perez wrote in the memo. “Because the written charges that counsel for the department successfully presented are based on the same offense, industrial double jeopardy is a barrier to the proposed termination.”

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