Detective in South Side incident says he's no 'rogue'

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The absence of a Taser activation and provisions in the police union contract might make it difficult for city officials to discipline an officer involved in a high-profile encounter in the South Side last weekend.

Detective Frank Rende said on Tuesday that he was not ready to discuss the specifics of the incident, a video of which was posted on YouTube and other websites. He said he remains in the bureau's anti-grafitti squad and none of his superiors have spoken to him about the situation other than to ask him to turn over his Taser cartridge for testing.

Mayor Luke Ravenstahl this week called for his firing, but the detective defended his track record at the bureau, saying that of a dozen disciplinary reports filed against him, only two were upheld.

"I'm not the rogue cop they're making me out to be," Detective Rende said.

His case brings to attention a contract provision that establishes expiration dates after which previous disciplinary reports will remain on file with the city law department but may no longer be considered as factors in promotions or new disciplinary hearings.

Union leaders say the clause, which establishes "reckoning periods," is important because it prevents officers who have otherwise clean records from being held back for promotion because of a single incident. Some outside the union, however, have questioned whether the policy is an effective way to manage the bureau.

Detective Rende on Saturday arrested 27-year-old Mark Keyser Jr., of Ross, on charges of defiant trespass, disorderly conduct and public drunkenness near the Claddagh Irish Pub in the SouthSide Works.

In an expletive-filled encounter caught on video, Detective Rende asks Mr. Keyser to leave the area. A bystander and some who have seen the video said they thought that Mr. Keyser had followed the detective's orders to disperse, when the detective approached him, placed a Taser to his neck and the man fell over. Detective Rende wrote in the complaint that he thought Mr. Keyser fell into a white plastic fence because he was drunk.

The detective wrote in a criminal complaint that he did not feel as though Mr. Keyser followed his orders and a union official on Tuesday supported that assertion. Detective Rende wrote in the complaint that he threatened to use his Taser on Mr. Keyser but never did. Acting police Chief Regina McDonald on Monday confirmed that the detective did not activate his Taser.

The encounter is now being reviewed by the city Office of Municipal Investigations.

Detective Rende on Tuesday commented on two previous incidents that OMI had investigated involving him.

He acknowledged a "moral" lapse in 1999 when he was disciplined for returning to the home of a woman who had called 911 to report a domestic disturbance and engaged in a sex act with her after his shift. The woman was drunk and depressed, according to an OMI report.

"That was a moral thing. I was off duty. A three-minute tryst cost me all this," Detective Rende said.

He said that incident and a 1997 punishment for a self-initiated investigation of a shoplifting incident in a jewelry store were the only other sustained complaints in his 20-year career. He described his record as "excellent" and his evaluations as "spotless."

Nevertheless, the 1999 incident put him with the Track Three program, in which officers agree to meet certain requirements to avoid being fired, and a last-chance agreement. The detective said he did not remember the terms of that agreement but thought it had expired.

Chief McDonald declined to comment, calling it a "personnel matter."

The union contract states that a verbal reprimand given to an officer will remain in his personnel jacket -- which is used to consider promotions and discipline -- for one year, a written reprimand for two years and a suspension for five years.

Sgt. Michael LaPorte, president of the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge No. 1, said he thinks the reckoning periods are "a good thing" because they allow supervisors to consider the totality of an officer's career.

He said that officers who perform street work, as opposed to desk jobs, are likely to have higher arrests and therefore a higher chance of complaints.

"You wouldn't want to have a misperception that just because this employee has a lot of complaints he might not otherwise be a good employee," Sgt. LaPorte said.

Elizabeth Pittinger, executive director of the Citizen Police Review Board, questioned whether that clause in the contract forces police supervisors to "take a significant risk" when evaluating their officers.

"It makes presumptions, and I think it's not a bad thing to recognize that people can change their behavior," she said. "Right now, we're dealing with this guy -- the whole world knows that he has a number of infractions in his career and he's still there. The nature of those infractions would cause concerns about a reliable employee."

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Liz Navratil: lnavratil@post-gazette.com, 412-263-1438 or on Twitter @LizNavratil. Jonathan D. Silver: jsilver@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1962.


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