Questions Mount Over Controversy At Police Academy

01/21/10 5:50PM By Nina Keck
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(Host) Vermont's police academy has been rocked by controversy over the past week.

There have been personnel investigations and a criminal probe involving child pornography. The executive director resigned. And last weekend, the training coordinator was found dead on academy grounds.

As VPR's Nina Keck reports, questions about what's been going on at the facility are mounting.

(Keck)  Steve Benard is chairman of the Vermont Criminal Justice Training Council, which oversees the police academy.  

In the last seven months, he says the state has conducted two internal personnel investigations at the academy. 

The first began last June and resulted in the resignation of training and curriculum coordinator Kevin Almquist. Benard wouldn't comment about that case nor would officials from Department of Human Resources.

Benard says a second personnel investigation began two weeks ago when the state seized four computers at the academy.  He says that probe focused on the electronic communications between staff members, including Director RJ Elrick and training coordinator David McMullen.  At that point, state police were called in.

(Benard) "During the week of January 11th, the Vermont State police initiated a criminal investigation after a preliminary analysis of McMullen's computer revealed it may contain contents of a criminal nature."

(Keck) Investigators found evidence of child pornography.  Last Friday police searched McMullen's home and seized computers there.   The next day, McMullen was found dead on the police academy grounds from an apparent suicide.   Steve Benard says former Executive Director RJ Elrick's computers had no evidence of child pornography.

(Benard) "He's no part of the state police investigation and he chose to resign. That was his choice, he wasn't asked to resign. And he gave me no reason, so I can't speculate as to why."  

(Keck) Reached at home, RJ Elrick, also refused comment.  Benard says that the law enforcement community holds itself to a higher standard.

(Benard) "It doesn't mean that accidents and mistakes don't occur, but you can be sure that when those accidents or mistakes occur, they're not swept under the rug, they're not covered up they're not shredded."

(Keck) Lawmaker Kevin Mullin, a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, says he's pleased that Jim Baker - a former state police colonel - will act as interim director at the academy.    

But Mullin says he's troubled that the council that oversees the academy doesn't report to any one state agency and may be too autonomous for its own good. 

(Mullin) "I have some serious concerns about the management structure and I think the Judiciary Committee is going to take a look at that and see if the training council is the proper way to go forward or if that should be a more advisory capacity with a direct link to a specific management.  We want to make sure that there is specific accountability for everything."

(Keck) Mullin says it's too early to say what, if any, action lawmakers will take since all the facts are not yet known.  

For VPR News, I'm Nina Keck.

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