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NIU fires embattled police chief

Published: Wednesday, Feb. 20, 2013 11:11 a.m. CDT

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(MCT) — Embattled Northern Illinois University police Chief Donald Grady — the man many hailed as a hero for his handling of a mass shooting on campus five years ago — was fired Tuesday, the university announced.

The dismissal comes more than three months after he was put on paid leave for his department's alleged misconduct in a high-profile rape case, and five months after he asked the FBI for help investigating university finances.

Grady can appeal the firing, and his attorney, Michael Fox, pledged Tuesday that he will "fight this in every manner to show the injustice of what has now been done."

"The allegations against Chief Grady are baseless and we will be able to prove that," Fox said. "I believe there may be other motives in operation here in regards to Chief Grady's dismissal, and we will also be doing whatever we can do to demonstrate that as we go forward."

In a statement released late Tuesday to the Tribune, NIU said Grady was fired after a review of the rape case and police department records, as well as an administrative hearing.

The Tribune obtained a copy of the dismissal letter sent to Grady on Tuesday. In the blistering, five-page document, Bill Nicklas, acting director of public safety, stated that the chief likely "ordered, encouraged and/or condoned" the withholding of evidence that could have cleared an NIU officer accused of rape.

"I do not believe there was merely a mistaken withholding of evidence," Nicklas wrote. "Moreover, I do not find credible your claim that you were not involved in the purposeful withholding of exculpatory evidence."

Grady, who led the campus police force since 2001, has had a roller-coaster relationship with the campus. He was praised for saving lives during the 2008 campus shootings that left five students dead, but also criticized for his sometimes prickly personality and refusal to share information about investigations.

His most recent troubles began last fall when a DeKalb County judge accused his department of misconduct in its investigation of an alleged sexual assault by one of its officers. The judge ruled an officer investigating the case purposely withheld evidence that could have cleared the defendant, an action the judge called "egregious." NIU authorities maintained that it was an oversight.

The former DeKalb County state's attorney quickly dismissed the case against Officer Andrew Rifkin, who has since filed a lawsuit against Grady and the university for allegedly mishandling his case.

"I'm sorry to see anyone lose their job, but I believe that given the circumstances here, it was appropriate," Rifkin's attorney Bruce Brandwein said.

There was no evidence presented during the Rifkin case that Grady had ordered or knew about the withheld evidence — statements from two women claiming the sex between Rifkin and the alleged victim, an NIU freshman, was consensual. Regardless, the primary allegation in Grady's termination letter was that the police chief either knew about the violation, or should have known about it.

The university put Grady on paid leave Nov. 10. The university also suspended Lt. Kartik Ramakrishnan, the NIU officer who investigated the sexual assault case; his case is still pending.

Grady drew a salary of about $206,000 and had a year left on his contract.

Grady's reputation reached near-herculean proportions on campus Feb. 14, 2008, when NIU alumnus Steven Kazmierczak opened fire in a large lecture hall, killing five students and injuring 21 others before killing himself. When the first reports of the shooting came into his office, Grady, a former track star, ran the near-quarter mile from his office to the scene.

Though Kazmierczak already had taken his own life by the time Grady and his officers arrived at Cole Hall, many publicly praised the chief's swift response and willingness to risk his life by entering the auditorium. They also commended his officers for their first-aid training, which the chief required as part of his crisis preparedness planning.

Harold Ng, who was shot in the back of the head as he was fleeing the classroom, believes the department's much-lauded response will be Grady's enduring legacy at NIU. When compared to glaring errors made during the Virginia Tech massacre a year earlier, the NIU officers' response was fast, well-executed and put student safety first, he said.

"Whether it was Grady or his officers, they handled the situation very, very well," said Ng, who returned to NIU after the shootings and graduated with a communications degree in 2010. "They did a great job and, in the aftermath, they made sure that students felt safe. That's what you would want."

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