The Bernie Fine case has done more than just shock the city. It's also opened up a war of words between the District Attorney and Syracuse Police. YNN's Bill Carey says much of the new tension followed what was apparently a decision by police to freeze the DA's office out of its initial investigation.
SYRACUSE, N.Y. – Six days after the public heard of Bernie Fine's problems, Onondaga County's District Attorney said he was being frozen out of the case by Syracuse Police, and in particular, Chief Frank Fowler.
“These are the paybacks of a juvenile mind. Someone that really, really doesn't belong in law enforcement,” Onondaga County District Attorney William Fitzpatrick said on November 23rd.
Fitzpatrick launched a court battle over a subpoena he had issued for police records in the case. A subpoena that Syracuse Police were resisting. The reason was a decision, apparently made early on in the latest Fine probe that the DA's office would not be the lead agency.
For the prosecution, the Syracuse Police sought out, instead, the U.S. Attorney's office, and it is, in fact, the U.S. Attorney's office that's now heading up the investigation. The lingering question is why? No one is speaking on the record, but there is continued discussion of a fear of a potential conflict of interest for Fitzpatrick, who has been a long time friend of Coach Jim Boeheim, a claim that legal experts say shouldn't carry any weight.
“To suggest that that's going to create some form of conflict of interest that would disqualify a person of his standing and competence and experience from pursuing this kind of investigation, to me, it's insulting to a person's intelligence,” attorney Edward Menkin said.
Also lingering are questions over past cases involving figures in the SU basketball program. Did they receive special treatment?
Basketball players like Scoop Jardine. There were claims that Jardine knew of thefts by another person, using a stolen ID card, and then tried to cover up his involvement. The DA's office ruled his involvement was a minor matter and the case was not pursued.
Eric Devendorf, an SU player accused by a girlfriend of striking her. In that case, no prosecution and the case was referred to the SU judicial board.
Player Billy Edelin faced scrutiny after two female students brought charges of sexual misconduct against him. The DA said there was no criminal conduct. SU later suspended Edelin, a step the DA called "mind boggling" and "disturbing."
The District Attorney has declined comment on those past SU cases in connection with the Fine probe.
Last Friday, the most visible sign of the investigation to date. A search of Bernie Fine's home. No personnel from the DA's office were there.
With Bernie Fine now out of a job and the search warrant already executed at his home, Syracuse Police have cleared most of the major hurdles in the early part of the investigation. And they will now hand over their files to the District Attorney's office. But the dispute may be far from over. And the consequences could last a very long time.
Menkin said, “Longer lasting consequences, in a very negative way for our community, than this Bernie Fine unpleasantness is ever going to have.”