Heavy rains precipitate words of caution from authorities

Not impressed with Christiansen’s work, which cost the department just under $6,000, the  said that a proper investigation would have made sure to interview all of those who had come forward with complaints about Farmer's conduct. (file photo)

In mid-February, a retired FBI agent and longtime private investigator released a report regarding the conduct of Detective Jeff Farmer both in Washington, D.C., at the Jan. 6 pro-Trump rally and in his years as a Franklin County sheriff’s deputy.

Franklin County Sheriff Chris Quire said the 13-page report, compiled by Carl Christiansen, “cleared” Farmer of major wrongdoing, particularly accusations and implications contained in a letter by all five Franklin County public defenders that sparked scrutiny of Farmer’s conduct. 

One former police chief, who's also a policing policy expert who has been called as a witness in police conduct cases across the country, isn’t as satisfied with the report.

“It's not adequate,” Chet Epperson said. “If that was handed to me as a former police chief, I’d say, ‘No, you’re going to have to prove some of this.’”

Epperson was with the Rockville, Illinois, Police Department for more than 30 years, serving as chief for 10 years. He’s also president of Americans for Effective Law Enforcement. At the State Journal's request, he reviewed Christiansen's report and news coverage related to Farmer.

Not impressed with Christiansen’s work, which cost the department just under $6,000, Epperson said that a proper investigation would have made sure to interview all of those who had come forward with complaints about Farmer's conduct.

“If this is a route you're going to take, then you need to go the full route,” Epperson said. “In an investigation of police misconduct, I would expect an investigator to go speak to anyone who has made an assertion of complaints of alleged police misconduct.”

The State Journal has confirmed that none of the people who spoke to the media — neither The State Journal nor NBC News, which ran a lengthy report on the community’s response to the investigation — about their run-ins with Farmer were included in Christiansen’s 35 interviews.

The two people whom Christiansen mentioned interviewing in his report that have experience with Farmer as an officer confirmed anonymously to The State Journal that their stories were not shared in the NBC News article.

Both Kyira Glover and Antoine Andrews, who recounted dramatic and upsetting run-ins with Farmer to The State Journal, were not contacted by Christiansen.

Glover said Farmer called him the N-word and wrongfully followed and arrested him. Andrews recalled an arrest in which he says Farmer unnecessarily pointed his gun at Andrews and a friend while they were smoking a cigar in a parked car; Farmer then arrested the pair. In a court hearing, Farmer denied pointing his gun at them.

“It tells me that they just think we’re making that up,” Andrews said. “… If he hasn’t talked to me or anyone else, that tells me what side he’s on.”

Christiansen has defended the fact that he didn’t speak with Glover, Andrews or their attorney, Patrick Brennan, one of the public defenders whose letter prompted Quire to order the investigation. Christiansen blamed Focus on Race Relations (FORR) member Margaret O’Donnell for not following up on an offer to put him in touch with Glover or Andrews and said that Chief Public Defender Nathan Goodrich told him not to contact his employees.

Both O’Donnell and Goodrich disputed Christiansen’s account of their conversations. Goodrich added that he later grew suspicious of how Christiansen would portray their interaction based on the fact that Christiansen asked him if he was recording their conversation.

Regardless, Epperson said that a crucial part of doing such an investigation is making sure to contact and investigate everyone with relevant complaints. That way the department can respond accurately based on the validity of the complaints.

“If it's not true, you just don't want that to linger,” Epperson said. “You don't want bad apples in your police force, but if it's not true then you go back to the person who made the complaint and say, ‘I checked into this. Here's the data; here's the information; it's not true.’”

Quire agreed that it would have been ideal had at least Andrews or Glover been interviewed, but said that he was overall satisfied with Christiansen’s work.

“To me it would have been great had they (Glover and Andrews) polygraphed and all that, but I don’t think it would have changed the outcome,” Quire said. “It would not have changed their statement or their stance.”

Quire sent a letter to Farmer critical of his use of social media and, after reassigning him to desk duty during the investigation, moved him from narcotics to general investigations.

Epperson emphasized that he did not agree with the forums used by the public defenders — traditional media and social media — to voice their complaints. He said that the two complaints, one about his attendance at the Trump rally and the other about his past police conduct, should have been separated.

O’Donnell said that FORR met with Quire in August about Farmer’s conduct and that she had heard fewer complaints about his policing for several months thereafter.

O’Donnell and Kristie Powe, acting president of FORR, have both penned guest columns in The State Journal critical of Christiansen’s report.

The Kentucky Sheriff’s Association recommended Christiansen to the department, Quire said.

“It doesn't matter who would have done the report,” Quire said. “There's nobody on planet Earth that would have pleased everybody, and that's exactly why I didn’t ask myself or the city to do it — to keep us all out of it.”

Christiansen did not respond to a request for comment on this article by press time.

Washington, D.C., and what’s next

Epperson, who said he often conducted internal investigations as police chief of a department larger than Quire’s, suggested that he would have leaned toward investigating the matter himself were he in Quire’s position.

That way, he argued, the department’s top cop can know for certain the content of the investigation and make the call from there.

On that front, Epperson criticized what information was provided as proof that Farmer did not violate any laws while he was in Washington, D.C.

For instance, Christiansen did not include in his report any reckoning with apparent contradictions on Farmer’s proximity to the U.S. Capitol, which was stormed by rioters while Congress certified the results of the 2020 presidential election. Farmer and the three people with him that day told Christiansen they were never closer than “500-600 yards from the Capitol steps.” Farmer himself posted on Facebook on the day of the rally that he made it to “the base of the steps.” 

Epperson was critical of the fact that Christiansen’s report to Quire did not parse out in the report where and how he acquired the information he included.

“It doesn’t say how he got that information or where he got it from,” Epperson said. “There seems to be a lot of ‘they left at this time, they went this route, they went on this airplane, they went on this Metro.’ How does he know all that? How did you get all that information? It's not clear. In a thorough investigation, you list all of those as exhibits. Or at least you footnote with ‘this is how I found that information out.’”

Much of Epperson’s criticism was contingent on whether the report shared by Quire, which he said he released in order to be transparent, was all that Christiansen shared with him.

An open records request to the sheriff’s office, as well as an interview with Quire, confirmed that the report was the only document that Christiansen shared.

Franklin County Commonwealth’s Attorney Larry Cleveland, who has defended Farmer’s record, said that he thought the report was solid.

“There's always gonna be somebody looking over your shoulder, Monday morning quarterbacking and say, 'how could they have done it differently,'" Cleveland said. "I thought his report was thorough. But there's always going to be people who are going to be critical in any investigation like that."

Cleveland also said he regretted that the ordeal led to one fewer county deputies working on narcotics investigations. Quire said that his office now has one officer on narcotics and is working with city police until they decide who will fill a second slot for that unit.

“That’s going to slow down drug enforcement, and it’ll basically leave drug enforcement in the hands of city police,” Cleveland said. “… Really nobody else in the sheriff’s office was doing drug investigations except Deputy Farmer. From my standpoint it’s a real bad development.”

Cleveland referenced a lawsuit filed by Farmer's attorney, Chris Wiest, against the public defenders in federal court for damages exceeding $1 million.

"I just regret that the whole thing happened," Cleveland said. "I regret that a lawsuit has been filed. I regret the public defenders doing what they did to prompt all this. I just wish everybody had handled it differently. They could have approached the sheriff and said, 'these are the issues,' and got everybody got in the room and aired it out to resolve it. I think that would have been a much better way to handle this. But that does nobody any good at this point."

Epperson closed by saying that he believes a deeper investigation should take place — else, he said, distrust of local law enforcement will only get worse.

“This issue is not going to go away,” Epperson said. “It's just going to keep festering and festering … . With all the trust and transparency issues that we have in law enforcement, that's going to become a bigger issue if he doesn't take care of it.

“You have to check every complaint out, you have to talk to every witness, anyone that has any association with the officer asserting anything about his performance — all of that has to be looked at. Someone has to dig deep into his cases and his reports. They have to do a better analysis and assessment. Once they do the assessment, then an administrative review. If they find that ‘yes, we got a problem here,’ then I'm sure there's collective bargaining or something like that. But initially, someone has to look at that information.”

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