Internal affairs investigation clears Fort Myers police official, but


FORT MYERS

An internal affairs investigation into allegations that a Fort Myers police official wanted to hide the cost of a new police station has cleared the police official from wrongdoing after he was accused of ordering a subordinate to mislead city officials.

The 108-page internal affairs investigation into Major William Newhouse shows that every member of the command staff of the Fort Myers Police Department interpreted a conversation he had with a subordinate differently.

Donald Oswald, who until Friday was the inspector general (IG) for the police department, accused Newhouse of directing a lieutenant “not to mention the anticipated cost to anyone on the city council until after they spent the $36 million already budgeted and are in too deep to back out.”

Initially, it was estimated to cost the city $34 million to turn the old News-Press building at the corner of Fowler Street and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard into new police headquarters. But it’s almost doubled since then.

Oswald resigned because of the way the Newhouse internal affairs investigation was handled, he told WINK News.

The internal affairs investigation on Newhouse was unfounded.

“Usually in policing, people say the politics don’t play a role,” said David Thomas, professor of forensic studies at FGCU. “They play a major role.”

Thomas is also a former police officer.

Thomas reviewed the sworn statements made by the command staff in the internal affairs investigation.

He said he would have found the allegations unfounded as well.

Newhouse, Chief Derrick Diggs and Lt. Roger Valdivia maintained Newhouse did not give an order at all.

“This whole whatever allegation is totally out of context,” Diggs said, according to the investigation.

Deputy Chief Jeffrey Meyers wasn’t quite sure, but recalled Valdivia “perceived it as an order.”

And Oswald was positive it was an order.

And it was aggressive.

Against Oswald’s recommendation, Chief Diggs allowed Newhouse’s subordinate to conduct the investigation.

Thomas agreed that decision alone should prompt an independent investigation like the one Fort Myers Mayor Kevin Anderson and Councilmen Johnny Streets and Fred Burson are calling for.

“Whatever the chips fall, that’s where they fall, but at least you show the public that you’re trying to do the right thing,” Thomas said.

The internal affairs investigation is lengthy but Thomas broke it down in nine words.

“I think politically, something has happened in that stew,” Thomas said.

In the investigation, Oswald slams the Diggs to the investigating officer.

“It’s very ironic that he consistently has told me that I have complete independence and autonomy and that I am the inspector general and as soon as I bring something to his attention that potentially could reflect poorly on him I get the reaction that I’ve been getting,” Oswald said.

Ultimately, Oswald works for the chief, Thomas said.

Newhouse maintained he absolutely did not give an unethical order and went after Oswald.

“I’m really not sure why the IG is, is, attacking my integrity,” Newhouse said in the investigation. “I almost feel like a pawn in this complaint.”

The politics are amiss, Thomas said.

“Although the IG was brought in to bring credibility to the agency. I think now we’re right back to where we started,” Thomas said.

The Fort Myers Police Department has been accused of corruption since at least 2017 when a 72-page audit by Freeh Group International Solutions investigated the department.

In a statement, the Fort Myers Police Department denied it tried to mislead city leaders about the cost of a new headquarters.

The Fort Myers Police Department operates with transparency and accountability and that is reflected in the recent handling of the new police department construction project and the Internal Affairs investigation into the Inspector General’s complaint.

The figures and needs expectations of the new police department were discussed at a city budget workshop on August 26, 2021. There have been no attempts to withhold cost estimates at any time.

The Fort Myers Police Department is committed to being a good steward of tax dollars and operating in a transparent fashion.

The Newhouse statement happened on June 10th.

The budget workshop happened on Aug. 26th.

The internal affairs investigation began on July 8th.

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