What now for the City after ‘expert’ opinion on Police Department?

Published 2:00 pm Friday, September 29, 2023

Who is Harmening, and what is his expertise? What is BPD’s response and the City’s plan of action?

When Brookhaven’s aldermen hired an independent expert to evaluate the city’s police department and its operations, Police Chief Kenneth Collins alleges it was done as part of an attempt to destroy the department and its chief.

The City Board selected William “Bill” Harmening — a 37-year retired law enforcement officer from Illinois. Harmening’s bio says he “served both as uniformed Deputy Sheriff in downstate Illinois and as a Special Agent and Chief Special Agent for the State of Illinois in Chicago … He is also a retired university professor, having taught criminal justice, criminology, and forensic psychology … He is the author of multiple peer-reviewed textbooks in those subject areas.”

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After receiving a Grand Jury letter that made comments critical of the police department, the Board hired “police practices expert” Harmening “to identify problems and deficiencies in … policies, practices and protocols, with the goal of shaping a more professional and effective department for the community it serves,” Mayor Joe Cox said at the time.

In his evaluation, Harmening said he had discussions with District Attorney Dewitt “Dee” Bates, “certain BPD officers, as well as with Chief Collins and most of his command staff.”

The final report submitted to the City includes a 32-page evaluation, as well as 62 combined pages of biography and publications for Harmening and two reviewers, Francis D. Boateng of The University of Mississippi, and Charles L. Scheer of The University of Southern Mississippi. Scheer has also been a reserve deputy with the Lincoln County Sheriff’s Office since 2018.

In his summary report, Harmening said BPD was “in need of rebuilding,” and recommended the aldermen form a police committee to aid in restructuring.


Police response

Chief Collins said Harmening spent no more than an hour and 15 minutes at the police station, including the time he talked with the chief and command staff. He questioned Harmening’s qualifications as well as his conclusions.

“They brought this outsider in — in my opinion — to be a false witness against me and the police department so they can take over and control that department,” Collins said. “They present this to you like it’s a beautiful cake, but it’s poison that they’re spreading. Do not eat of this cake.”

The department’s policies and procedures were unclear, Harmening’s report said, critiquing policies on promotions, hiring and discipline, among others. He also said it appeared BPD copied McComb Police’s policies and procedures without editing them.

“My policy and procedures book was written and gathered from information from the Mississippi Chief’s Association. It is one of the most comprehensive policy and procedure books that this city has ever had. It was not taken from McComb, as the review alleges,” said Collins. “If I need any updates to any of my policies and procedures, I will be going through the Department of Public Safety for that help. It would not be this gentleman or this Board.”

Collins said his personal experience in law enforcement and the military qualify him to understand rank and structure, having spent 36 years as a police officer, six years as a deputy, and nearly 10 years in the National Guard.

The chief said his requests for updated body cameras, laptops and dash cameras, as well as to replace a police department building that is a health hazard and infested with pests, have been ignored while a focus on destroying the department has gotten “bolder.”

“What these individuals need to know is that I do not fight alone. I bring God to this battle with me. Goliath, have you already forgotten the power of the Lord? Do you think country people are not wise enough to see what you all are doing?” Collins asked.

“The report said we hire criminals, felons, and people with DUIs. This is not true. Everyone is cleared through an extensive background check provided by us,” said Collins. “My question to the City and this community is who did this man’s background check before taxpayer money was used in their attempt to destroy and take over the police department? They used your money to get a biased report to try to implement their plan. ‘How much’ is the question. I want to know.”


Questioning Harmening

Though a former law officer, “Harmening has a history of writing anti-police reports in use of force cases,” according to Wisconsin Right Now. In 2021, the news source published an article on Harmening that questioned his credentials as an expert witness.

“According to Federal Court documents,” reporter Jim Piwowarczyk wrote, “William Harmening participated in one homicide investigation sometime between 1990 and 1993, has never been a crime scene specialist or criminalist, never investigated an officer-involved shooting, took one course on investigative methods which lasted less than a day, (and) does not hold any certifications or licenses involving crime scene analysis or reconstruction.”

Wisconsin Right Now also found that the professor was previously accused of presenting a conclusion against an officer that was “riddled with errors.” Piwowarczyk wrote:

Harmening’s expert testimony was limited in other cases, and another judge raised questions about some of his findings. In a Fresno case, he was accused of injecting “mere speculation and conjecture” into his testimony.

We found case after case in which William Harmening, an adjunct professor, wrote reports in use-of-force cases around the country siding against the police. Those representing police officers have repeatedly questioned his expertise to weigh in on use-of-force matters, although some courts have qualified him as an expert.

Federal court documents from a 2019 case accepted Harmening “as an expert in securities fraud and securities fraud investigation,” but stated he “has never been accepted by a court as an expert in any other area.”

A New Mexico court concluded that Harmening should only be allowed to give expert testimony “within the reasonable confines” of his expertise — psychology and securities fraud.

Harmening disputed WRN’s article, writing, “In all my cases, I have been disqualified only twice, both in 2018. One was in New Mexico and occurred after I had already terminated my involvement in the case for a number of reasons. Consequently, I did not defend myself, nor did the attorney since I had withdrawn. The other case was in Indianapolis. Just prior to the trial, all of the experts (4 total) were disqualified for reasons not clearly spelled out. We believed the Judge was attempting to push the attorneys toward settlement…. Beyond those two cases, I have never been disqualified, although there have been many attempts, and those attempts will continue. It is the game that is played unfortunately. I have been qualified all over the U.S. in various federal districts.

In 2022, an Indiana court rejected Harmening’s expert testimony because it directly conflicted with the physical evidence (Estate of Eric Jack Logan v. City of South Bend).

A Monterey County, California, court dismissed Harmening’s testimony on crime scene evidence as “speculative testimony based on unscientific interpretations of crime scene evidence, many of which were later contradicted by independent evidence.”

An October 2022 press release from the office of Monterey County District Attorney Jeannine M. Pacioni stated that Judge Hood determined that Harmening lied about his credentials.  (https://www.co.monterey.ca.us/Home/Components/News/News/9387/9444) In an email to The Daily Leader, Harmening said the release is incorrect, and that Hood qualified him as an expert the following day, and he “testified for many hours in a televised proceeding.”


What will Brookhaven do?

The Board of Aldermen will meet next on Tuesday, Oct. 3, at 6:30 p.m. Board members are expected to discuss Harmening’s recommendations, as well as responses from the Police Department. Any potential actions taken by the board are yet to be determined.

A representative from the City Clerk’s Office said an invoice for Harmening’s services had not yet been received, so she could not say what the city was asked to pay for the review.

Read a copy of the full report here.