Fort Myers city officials want an independent probe into the handling of a Fort Myers Police Department internal affairs investigation that cleared a high-ranking officer accused of asking a subordinate to keep information from city council.
Fort Myers Mayor Kevin Anderson and at least four city councilmembers, including Liston Bochette, say they are in favor of an investigation.
On Tuesday, a board of citizens also voted to ask city council for a review of the internal affairs investigation into former William Newhouse, a former major on the command staff who worked at FMPD for 27 years before retiring on Nov. 4.
Newhouse was accused by former inspector general Donald Oswald of ordering a subordinate to hide the cost overruns of turning the former News-Press building into police headquarters.
The cost has more than doubled from the original estimate of about $36 million to convert the property at the corner of Fowler Street and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard.
Fort Myers police spokeswoman Kristin Capuzzi said the police department will cooperate with any investigation.
Oswald spoke to the Citizens Police Review Board on Tuesday and asked them to look at the investigation.
It was the first time the public saw Oswald in the same room as anyone from the Fort Myers Police Department since his resignation on Oct. 29.
“I’ll be very honest,” said FGCU Professor David Thomas. “It’s like he’s truly the outsider. The IG is the outsider because he comes from the FBI. He is an outsider, he’s not the police in blue.”
It was smart of the advisory board to decline to look into the internal affairs investigation themselves, said Thomas, a former police officer and now forensic studios professor.
“It’s nobody associated with the PD,” Thoma said. “I think that that’s what they need to do in order to fix this.”
Fort Myers City Manager Marty Lawing could decide on his own to look at the investigation, but so far he has not.
City Council meets on Monday. It’s unclear if they will order an investigation, but regardless the division sown will have a lasting effect, Thomas said.
“That could be months, or it could be years, it depends on how well the administration cleans up its mess. Because the administration is doing their infighting, and that has become public fodder,” Thomas said.
For Anderson, who served as an officer at FMPD for 25 years, he never liked it when an incident occurred that cast a shadow on the police department.
“It’s like you come into work every day with this cloud over you,” Anderson said. “People are looking at you, are you part of that? Even though you are a good officer and you are doing your job well they still look at you like you’re part of that organization. If there’s something wrong you must be wrong as well.”
Anderson said it’s hard to turn that around.
But he also said he believes every officer had a duty to prove to every citizen they are worthy of trust.
“And it has to be from the top-down and the bottom-up, every single member of the agency from the newest officer up to the chief.”