BOISE, Idaho — Boise Mayor Lauren McLean said that she asked for police chief Ryan Lee's resignation on Sept. 23 after a KTVB report was published detailing complaints against Lee within the Boise Police Department, "based on new information" she had that day, along with speaking to the police union.
The mayor spoke with KTVB about the resignation and what led up to that day.
McLean said she was already trying to address management styles with the chief before the KTVB story was published. However, after she met with the union when they called a meeting on the morning of Sept. 23, the night after the story was published, it became clear to her that the leadership discussions were not having the impact that she and others' would have liked.
Lee was hired in 2020 by McLean after former chief Bill Bones retired. He is now on leave until Oct. 14. Ron Winegar is the current interim police chief acting in Lee's place.
"I met with the union. It was in that meeting that I learned that their leadership, too, had been coaching the chief on his leadership and management style... There were several of us that had been having these conversations and offering support that we believe he needed." McLean said.
McLean said that with private information now public, "it also becomes that much harder to do the job that (Lee) needs to do."
"I had to make a decision based on new information that I had on Friday after talking with the union, knowing that we had had management discussions and a new environment that the chief and the police department found itself in. And with that, recognizing that change is hard for everyone, I made a decision and asked the chief to resign."
McLean was made aware of the complaints, which were taken by the Office of Police Accountability and put into a report, dated April 5, 2022. She read the intake, she said.
However, McLean said that a city council member brought a complaint from an officer about Lee's alleged behavior to her attention in February.
Emails from an employee to Human Resources allege that they came to HR in January detailing their concerns about Lee and were turned to Internal Affairs (IA) instead. Officers did not feel comfortable going to IA, as Lee was the head of IA, so they went to the Office of Police Accountability (OPA) instead.
The office took in the complaints, then issued a memo, recommending that Lee be placed on leave during further investigation into the complaints. He was never placed on leave.
"When you've got 400 folks in a department and nine people that have made complaints... Imagine the impact that would have on any department," McLean said. "You need to investigate and review those complaints, investigate whether or not they contain things they violate policy or law and then make that decision."
The complaints alleged verbally abusive behavior and name-calling. Former BPD officers told KTVB an entire command staff retired early because of how they were treated.
A third-party review was done by a firm, McLean said, and the city had asked the firm to look over the complaints taken in by OPA to decide if the city needed to take further action. It took nearly a week, she said.
"What we asked that third party to do, was review the complaints at face value as if they were true, and tell us if any crimes have been committed, if any policies have been violated, or if there are other steps that ought to be taken. As a manager, I have received that information back. No crimes have been committed, no policies have been violated. However, it was pointed out that there should be some management intervention and coaching, and policies for all command staff in the department should be created," McLean said.
She could not say who the third party was due to confidentiality of the complaints. KTVB asked why citizens cannot know the name of the firm if its actions are used with taxpayer dollars.
"The folks that we work with under contract have been approved by council," McLean said. "I'm committed to protecting the identities of our employees that file these complaints. That too was done with taxpayer dollars. But there's privacy concerns that we have, for the folks that made these complaints."
Immediately after the OPA memo was shown to McLean and the third party determined there to be no policy violations, she said, McLean directed the chief and the leadership team to begin working on communication styles and management. More substantial action was taken five months later, with Lee's resignation.
Not on leave
Lee was also under criminal investigation for allegedly injuring an officer's neck during a briefing -- according to a tort claim, Lee asked Sgt. Kirk Rush to come to the front of the room, where he allegedly placed his hands on his neck to demonstrate an impromptu hold.
Rush said in the tort claim he "heard a snap" and felt pain, later requiring surgery to fix. Lee was never charged after this investigation, as the Clearwater County Prosecutor's Office said that they didn't believe the state could prove battery or assault "beyond a reasonable doubt."
KTVB asked why Lee was never placed on leave during his criminal investigation into allegedly injuring Sgt. Kirk Rush's neck.
"I opted in this department, it was important to have leadership. We had no internal grounds to take action. It was within my discretion, and I chose to have him remain on duty," McLean said.
The emails from the employee earlier this year, which include correspondence with HR that lay out an employee's concerns, says the employee spent four hours total speaking to HR about the allegations in January.
The emails go on to say that HR informed the employee that upon a review of BPD policy, "the Office of Internal Affairs is responsible for investigating alleged violations of BPD policy and general city policy when there is overlap."
"If Boise City Human Resources, at the direction of City Legal, is notifying me that HR will not investigate any of the allegations and that the next course of action is to send it to BPD Internal Affairs, then I feel compelled to request that the investigation continues with them, as opposed to doing nothing at all," the email said. It also said the employee believed someone notified Lee of the complaints in HR, what the employee said seemed to be a lack of objective investigation.
KTVB asked why HR did not investigate, according to the emails.
"This gets to the clarity that all of our officers in the public deserve, because a general employee has one place to go, and that's to HR. Officers have internal affairs. Some officers went to HR. Some officers went to the Office of Police accountability," McLean said.
"So one of the things that we've learned from this, is that we need to have a clear process of one place where officers go to share their complaints if they have them. Traditionally, that's been internal affairs. I know that they would like us to look at a way that it isn't necessarily Internal Affairs, because of the oversight issues with that."
KTVB also asked if city legal advised HR to not open an investigation.
McLean said that there is a process through IA, and that the officers also have a grievance process with the union.
"Ultimately, it was determined that Office of Police Accountability could be the intake location for these complaints that were going to be made," McLean said.
Patrick Bageant, a Boise City Council member, said that the council has received all the documents they asked for from the mayor's office and are continuing to look through them.
Not all city council members were briefed at first when McLean asked Lee to resign, however. Council member Luci Willits said she first learned about it when she got the news notification on her phone.
McLean said that she since regrets not picking up the phone and letting them all know.
McLean also said that council will be great partners as they move ahead and will look to see if any policies need changing, like where officers can go if they have a complaint that the chief doesn't oversee.
"As we look at a growing city, and continuing to increase the investments we've made in policing, and as we have the last two years to maintain that trust, they're going to be involved all along the way," McLean said. "There is a whole bunch of things we ought to look at."
McLean said the one thing they want to have is clarity.
"What we know is, we want to have is clarity for accountability, and where officers go, one and done -- with the complaints that they might have," she said. "We know that for the public to continue to have their trust in the department and for our officers to have the support and care that they deserve as they do these tough jobs, we need to come up with clarity and rules as to where those complaints go in the future... And we want the next chief to be successful."
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