Mayor pro-tem says three LPD officers were suspended following retreat, third-party investigation ongoing

Published 8:14 pm Tuesday, February 28, 2023

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The City of LaGrange has revealed previously undisclosed details about the resignation of former Fire Chief John Brant and the retirement of Police Chief Lou Dekmar.

During Tuesday night’s meeting, the LaGrange City Council heard from Israel Barsh, who raised concerns about transparency from the city over the abrupt departures of Brant and Dekmar.

Barsh referenced videos of an internal investigation into alleged misconduct at a police department retreat at Banning Mills as well as the departure of Brant.

Mayor Pro-Tem Mark Mitchell acknowledged the investigation into the incident involving several police department members and said a separate independent investigation is ongoing.

“We’re not trying to hide anything. Everybody on the council is very aware of what’s going on. Ms. Kelsey has kept us abreast of what’s going on,” Mitchell said.

Mitchell said he received an anonymous letter on Jan. 7, 2023, about improper conduct at the police retreat at Banning Mills, which he turned over to Kelsey two days later.

“Kelsey took that complaint to Chief Dekmar and presented it to him. As I understand, there was a little pushback about doing an investigation, but she told him to do an investigation,” Mitchell said. “He ordered an investigation and shortly after that, we would get a retirement letter from him.”

According to Mitchell, the investigation was completed by Capt. Dale Strickland, who is currently serving as interim chief.

“While that investigation took place, we were not aware that the investigation had concluded. But it obviously had concluded and Chief Dekmar decided to hold that information from Ms. Kelsey and the council until the day he left,” Mitchell said.

Mitchell said they were given the results of that investigation by Dekmar at 4:45 p.m. on Friday, Feb. 4 on his last day.

As a result of the investigation, three officers were determined to have violated the code of conduct at Banning Mills. Mitchell said that Dekmar had dealt out punishments to them the week he left.

“Some of us don’t agree with the punishment that was handed down for what took place, but the punishment had already been administered so our hands were tied,” Mitchell said.

Mitchell said Capt. Mike Pheil received three days suspension, Lt. Chris Pritchett received two days suspension and Sgt. Becky Noles received two days suspension from Dekmar.

“That was carried out on the Monday before Dekmar retired on Friday, but we did not receive the results of that investigation until that Friday,” Mitchell said.

Mitchell said that since the initial investigation, new accusations have come to light and Pheil has been placed on administrative leave.

“There is another ongoing investigation that we’re not going to comment on,” Mitchell said. “There’s going to be an investigation done by an independent investigator. [The investigator is not] going to have anything to do with the police department.”

Mitchell said the departure of Brant was entirely unrelated to the police department investigation.

Mitchell revealed that Kelsey had received information about an alleged undisclosed incident involving Brant, which she felt was a code of conduct violation.

“She investigated that and after that investigation, the fire chief decided to resign instead of possibly being demoted,” Mitchell said.

A resignation letter submitted by Brant on Dec. 21, 2022, did not mention the incident.