Omaha, Ne.—A special prosecutor will examine possible criminal wrongdoing by several members of the Nebraska State Patrol, months after a News Channel Nebraska exclusive investigation uncovered a high speed chase and crash that left one man dead and the patrol knee-deep in talk of a cover-up.
According to a court order examined by News Channel Nebraska, former US Attorney Joe Stecher has been appointed to look into both the October 3, 2016 crash (see NCN’s exclusive video report above) and the Sheridan County grand jury investigation that found no wrongdoing.
The order lists Capt. Jamey Balthazor, Sgt. Travis Wallace, Sgt. Kevin Waugh and Trooper Timothy Flick as defendants—Flick was the officer who initiated the deadly chase—but none are accused of any specific crime.
All four are suspended with pay along with two other members of the patrol, including Lt. Col. Thomas Schwarten, who are not named in the order. The former head of the patrol, Col. Brad Rice who was fired by Gov. Pete Ricketts, is also not named.
As News Channel Nebraska first reported the patrol’s internal investigation of the western Nebraska crash, which found 32-year-old Antoine LeDeaux ejected from his car and suffering several fatal injuries, left Internal Affairs Lt. Dennis Leonard—who has since retired—convinced the patrol is no longer “capable of objectively investigating our own.”
A 15-page review of the patrol by an investigator for Ricketts noted “misconduct” and “dereliction of duty” throughout the top command. The report also indicated the possibility of perjury. The governor’s review does not say anyone lied to the grand jury but does say the patrol’s investigation, “…may have culminated with misrepresentations to the grand jury.”
The court order followed a request by Sheridan County Attorney Jamian Simmons calling for an independent investigation. In her request to District Court Judge Travis O’Gorman, Simmons—who oversaw the grand jury— noted she had a conflict of interest requiring the naming of a special prosecutor.
As News Channel Nebraska has reported exclusively, Simmons has questioned her role in any prosecution because, among other things, she says she might be “a possible witness.”
Simmons’ call for a special prosecutor follows a similar but unsuccessful push by 17 state lawmakers. The 17, led by State Sen. Burke Harr of Omaha, had asked Attorney General Doug Peterson to appoint a special prosecutor but Peterson declined.
The special prosecutor’s probe is the first clear-cut investigation. Ricketts says he’s turned over all his information to the FBI which he says is investigating. The FBI has not confirmed any such investigation.