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Police chief hero of Ill. shooting now painted as 'villain'

Associated Press

CHICAGO — A tough-talking police chief hailed as a hero for leading his men into a Northern Illinois University classroom last year after a gunman opened fire is now seen by some as a villain, of sorts, and is in danger of losing his $199,000-a-year job.

The persona that won Donald Grady laurels from survivors of the Valentine's Day shooting that left five students and the gunman dead is a now liability, say a growing number of critics who accuse Grady of being combative and uncooperative.

In this March 6, 2008 file photo, Northern Illinois University Police Chief Donald Grady is seen during an interview with the Associated Press in DeKalb, Ill. (AP Photo)
In this March 6, 2008 file photo, Northern Illinois University Police Chief Donald Grady is seen during an interview with the Associated Press in DeKalb, Ill. (AP Photo)

Criticism of NIU's 6-foot-5 top cop came to a head recently after an editor of the campus newspaper accused Grady of threatening and shouting at him during an interview that became a three-hour tirade.

"It's time to put an end to this mess. It's time for a change," the Northern Star student paper wrote in a blistering editorial calling for Grady's removal. It accused him of an "empirical reign" and of employing intimidation to get his way.

School officials put the 56-year-old Grady on paid leave for 30 days starting last week while a panel reviews the allegations by editor in chief Justin Weaver. A finding by next month could result in Grady's dismissal, NIU spokeswoman Kathy Buettner said.

Grady responded to an e-mail on Thursday saying he couldn't discuss the matter.

But NIU police Sgt. Ramon Holland defended his boss in a letter in Wednesday's Northern Star, praising Grady for pushing officers to improve their skills and to meet the highest ethical standards.

The newspaper's main concern was Grady's strained relations with other area agencies, said Weaver. The 22-year-old from Beloit, Wis., said that threatened to undermine overall campus security.

"Because of that, combined with the hostile work atmosphere that a lot of people in the university say he creates, we believe we'd be better served with someone more willing to work with other agencies," he said.

DeKalb County Sheriff Roger Scott is among the officials who have publicly backed the paper's call for Grady's ouster or resignation.

"NIU has isolated itself under his leadership," Scott said.

The sheriff hastened to praise Grady's immediate response to the attack on Feb. 14, 2008.

As 911 calls came in about gunshots, Grady, a former sprint star, bolted from his office and ran the 400 yards between his office and Cole Hall against waves of screaming students fleeing the complex.

Grady and several officers rushed into the classroom. The shooter, 27-year-old former NIU student Steven Kazmierczak, already was dead of a self-inflicted gunshot. But survivors praised Grady for displaying bravery when he couldn't have known that, and for quickly administering aid and comforting injured students.

Grady also won kudos for bolstering campus security earlier and for drawing up plans for crisis scenarios - including a shooting on the 25,000-student campus. For weeks after the tragedy, students applauded Grady when he walked by, some even hugging him.

But his critics say that however good Grady may be in a crisis, he's less well-suited for the day-to-day grind of a campus police chief.

Controversy has dogged Grady, who also is from Beloit, Wis., during his career. After becoming Wisconsin's first black police chief in the mostly white town of Bloomer in 1989, he created a stir by issuing nearly 300 tickets, including to himself, for violations of a snow-shoveling ordinance.

When he became Santa Fe, N.M., chief in 1994, he ordered officers to stop accepting free cups of coffee on the job and banned bolo ties.

Police responded with a 103-to-5 no-confidence vote in their boss. After digging in his heels for two years, Grady resigned, saying his reforms had encountered too much resistance.

And at NIU, well before the shooting, staff of the student newspaper had already complained that he often withheld standard crime reports, requiring the paper to file Freedom of Information Act requests.

He has failed so far to release an official report on the Valentine's Day shooting. Asked earlier this year why he hadn't done so, Grady said he would rather not hear the gunman's name again, that he didn't want to give Kazmierczak the notoriety he sought.

He also said there's no dispute about what he deemed the most important facts.

"You want to know who the suspect is? You know that. He's dead," said Grady, his stern, booming voice rising. "You want to know how many guns he had? You know that. You want to know how many victims there were? You know that. What else do you need to know?"

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