In the criminal justice system, the police themselves used to be investigated by a state commission that no longer exists.
This is one reporter's story of unsuccessfully finding out who does that now.
In 2006, the Commission of Investigation looked into conduct at the Watertown City Police Department and issued a scathing report about a kidnapping and shooting by an officer.
But the Commission of Investigation no longer exists. So who's going to investigate the $50 million lawsuit that's been lodged against the Jefferson County Sheriff's Department?
We reported in 2010 that the Commission of Investigation was sucked up into the Commission on Public Integrity. But that was not accurate, said John Milgrim, a spokesman for the Joint Commission on Public Ethics, which replaced the Commission on Public Integrity.
Mr. Milgrim said that the Commission of Investigation was part of the Division of Criminal Justice Services.
But DCJS spokeswoman Janine Kava tells me today that that's not true; the Commission of Investigation was never part of DCJS.
It was an independent executive agency, she said, whose existence expired in 2009.
Steve Greenberg, who used to do PR for the Commission of Investigation, told me that the commission was able to investigate "anything going on in state or local government."
But the state Legislature declined to renew enabling legislation in 2009, so the SIC, as it was known, went into Davey Jones' locker of defunct government agencies.
Which leads us to our next question: What state agency can do the same today thing as SIC used to be able to do? It appears nobody. In the great metamorphoses that have changed the state investigatory landscape in the past three years, the ability for the state to probe general accusations of wrongdoing on the local level no longer exists (Comptroller Tom DiNapoli issues audits of local governments, but that's usually about contracts or finances).
JCOPE, the new ethics commission, only looks into state officials and state lobbying law, Mr. Milgrim said.
Meanwhile, other officials that come to mind are quickly reaching for their 10-foot poles.
The state attorney general usually leaves these sorts of affairs to be sorted out by local officials.
Both the plaintiffs and the defendant in the $50 million lawsuit against Jefferson County say that they're open to or hoping for, respectively, an independent investigation. So that's been settled.
But that persistent question that remains: Who's going to be doing the investigating?
David Paulsen, Jefferson County's in-house attorney, said that he'd be leading the county's inquiry into the matter. But that hardly qualifies as "independent." He will depose witnesses in the case later this month, and could report back on whether policies — like sexual harassment guidelines — were violated.
The district attorney in Jefferson County can be safely ruled out, owing to a conflict of interest. Perhaps they'll enlist the help of an impartial law enforcement official from a neighboring county — a DA or a judge, as examples.
Several sources say they want to know who knew what, and when, in the Sheriff's Department. And I expect more to become clear as the lawsuit wends its way through the legal system.
But you'll come up empty on specifics if you ask anybody — whether it's the two separate yet equally important groups of plaintiffs and defendants — who could actually lead the investigation.
If you have any insight, shoot me an email: firstname.lastname@example.org