By Michael Tarm
CHICAGO — The FBI searched the Northern Illinois University police station this week with a warrant seeking, among other information, communications between the school's recently fired police chief and a vice president who took a leave of absence Friday in response to the investigation.
The six-page warrant — released Friday by NIU to The Associated Press and other media in response to a Freedom of Information Act request — includes a 21-point list of information being sought, the vast majority of it relating to police records dating back to 2005.
One section specifically seeks emails and other forms of communication between NIU's longtime police chief, Donald Grady, who was fired last month, and NIU Vice President Eddie Williams. The warrant offers no details about what is the target of the investigation, and it makes no allegations of wrongdoing by anyone.
The 25,000-student school has been dogged by several scandals over recent months. Last month, a former NIU police officer was indicted on sexual assault charges. Days earlier, Grady had been fired. And in October, several NIU employees were indicted in an alleged scheme to use proceeds from off-the-books sales of university-owned scrap metal.
The FBI spent more than eight hours at the DeKalb campus' police headquarters Wednesday. It shed little light on its raid, saying Wednesday only that search warrants were executed in "an ongoing criminal investigation" involving state police, the Department of Education and the Department of Housing and Urban Development.
The warrant specifically seeks records related to NIU criminal background checks on residents of an area housing development called Eden's Gardens, in which Williams has an interest. It also asks for communications between Grady and Williams, the chief of operations and executive vice president of finance and facilities, regarding the development.
"Separate from his university duties, Dr. Williams has developed affordable housing resources in the DeKalb community," Williams' attorney, William Sullivan said in a Friday statement. He added that, "Dr. Williams has no idea why he or the project is the subject of any government interest."
A statement from NIU on Friday said Williams was taking a leave of absence "until resolution of the investigation to avoid any appearance of conflict or any question concerning the university's response."
NIU President John Peters issued a statement earlier Friday to students and staff regarding the raid, saying, "That these issues are causing the campus community distress is understandable." He offered no details about the target of the probe.
"It is now clear that once the university comes through this trial, our university and, more specifically, our police department will be stronger, more transparent and more effective," he wrote.
The university fired Grady from his $200,000-a-year job on Feb. 19, accusing him of mishandling evidence in an investigation into allegations that the campus police officer had sexually assaulted a student in October 2011. Grady has denied that accusation.
"Chief Grady absolutely and unequivocally denies any and all wrong doing," his attorney, Michael Fox, said in an email Friday evening. He added, "The Chief does not share or assist in the outside business interests of Mr. Williams."
The warrant also seeks operations and procedure manuals, records of criminal history checks done by police, dispatcher logs and even the list of all crimes reported at NIU since 2005. It also seeks NIU police reporting about adherence to the Clery Act, a federal law that requires schools that receive federal money to disclose information about crimes on or near campus.
Days after Grady was fired, a DeKalb County grand jury indicted 25-year-old ex-officer, Andrew Rifkin, reinstating charges that were filed and then dropped last November as authorities criticized the handling of potential evidence. Rifkin has denied any wrongdoing.
The tough-talking Grady was hailed as a hero during the Feb. 14, 2008, shooting on campus, sprinting from the police station into the nearby NIU classroom. Five students died, and the gunman, former NIU student Steven Kazmierczak, committed suicide.
But some accused Grady of being combative and uncooperative. In 2009, he was briefly put on paid leave after the campus newspaper's editor accused him of yelling at him during an interview. He was later cleared of wrongdoing and reinstated.
Fox has said Grady launched the investigation into the off-the-books repository and that that may have contributed to his dismissal.
Grady has come under fire in some of his previous jobs, too. When he became Santa Fe, N.M., chief in 1994, he ordered officers to stop accepting free cups of coffee and banned bolo ties. Police responded with a 103-5 no-confidence vote. Grady resigned after two years, saying his reforms had encountered too much resistance.
Peters' Friday statement sought to end on a hopeful note.
"Trials bring strength, personal and institutional introspection and the opportunity for rebuilding," he said.
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Copyright 2013 Associated Press