What follows is an explanation of how the Lincoln Police Department ousts police officers who challenge the power structure within the department. We look at the consequences of a pair of firings to one case in particular, a misdemeanor charge against an Assistant City Attorney, which is scheduled for a hearing on Friday, March 11. As it currently stands, two police officers instrumental to the case have been fired, a family fleeing domestic violence was evicted and terrorized, and the Assistant City Attorney will likely see the charge dropped.
I. A Tool Meant to Protect the Public Against Dishonest Police Officers is Used to Fire Whistleblowers
According to sources close to the Lincoln Police Department, LPD uses a troubling tactic to remove cops it no longer wants on the force, including some of the recent whistleblowers.
Prosecutors’ offices and police departments around the country maintain something called a Brady/Giglio list. Brady and Giglio are shorthand names for two Supreme Court cases that led to the creation of these lists. Brady v. Maryland (1963) found that the government has a duty to provide potentially exculpatory evidence to the defense. Did someone else confess to the crime you are accused of? The prosecutor has to inform your lawyer. In United States v. Giglio (1972), the Court decided that this exculpatory evidence includes information that calls into question a witness’s credibility. Did the prosecutor promise zero jail time to your accomplice in exchange for his testimony? They have to tell your lawyer that, too.
These two decisions require the prosecution to inform the defense if the state knows a police officer involved in a case has questionable credibility–for example, because they stole from the evidence locker or have a history of racist violence or even simply that they were found to have lied to a supervisor. To be clear here, cops are absolutely allowed to lie to regular folks. But lying to an officer up the chain of command can constitute a transgression so serious that it can be used to impeach his or her credibility on the stand. Consequently, if a cop is found to have lied to a superior, he or she may receive a “Brady/Giglio letter,” which, as one source put it, is “career death.” If you can’t be used as a witness at trial, you are useless as a cop.
In some places, Brady/Giglio matters must be reviewed by an independent panel before a cop is officially added to the list. But not at LPD. At LPD, Brady/Giglio is handled internally, which, according to some officers, has resulted in Brady/Giglio letters being wielded as weapons in a toxic workplace.
The scenario described to Seeing Red Nebraska goes something like this: a cop gets on the bad side of someone with power in the Department. The cop is then subjected to extra scrutiny and questioned about random and sometimes inappropriate things until something that can be construed as a “lie” emerges. The “lie” is sometimes an innocent miscommunication, sometimes a hasty answer to an uncomfortable personal question–for one example within LPD, a supervisor asking a female inferior officer about her dating life–or sometimes entirely fabricated.
At that point, the officer knows that someone in the chain of command is sitting on an accusation of lying that can be weaponized at any minute. The targeted officer feels anxious, powerless, and at the mercy of a toxic workplace. When the lie is officially made into a complaint, a disciplinary investigation ensues, which often leads to the firing, suspension, or resignation of the targeted employee, whose reputation is then tarnished.
In short, toxic supervisors elicit “lies” out of their staff, or just fabricate them, in order to hold the threat of firing and disgrace over their heads, then finally file a complaint about the “lie” when they want to be rid of the cop.
Brady/Giglio has been implicated in at least five recent firings or other disciplinary actions at LPD: Sara Khalil, Luke Bonkiewicz, Angela Sands, Erin Spilker, and Laura Oliphant.
This is bad enough as a workplace fairness issue. But the public should be concerned about Brady/Giglio abuse if for no other reason than that it is toying with victims. Imagine you are the victim of domestic violence or sexual assault and LPD is playing Brady/Giglio games with the officer who responded to your crime. Poof, one of the cornerstone witnesses in your case disappears because a toxic supervisor at LPD wanted to get rid of a “troublemaker.”
Let’s take a look at how two of the Brady/Giglio letters involved with recent LPD firings are impacting one case.
II. A Family is Terrified
In 2021, Ana (all names of victims have been changed) and her two children were crashing at their friend Rob’s place after fleeing domestic violence. Rob was out of town. On the evening of Friday, May 21, Ana was asleep in one of the rooms of the tiny rental next to her daughter, when she was awakened by her daughter’s phone. Paul, her teenage son, had been asleep in a different bedroom in the house, but was now on the FaceTime screen physically struggling with an intruder and crying out for help. Ana called 911, and the intruder left the house.
When Officer Laura Oliphant arrived, she learned that the boy had awakened to a strange man on his bed. The man allegedly was agitated about something and tried to take the phone from the frightened boy. The family–who were people of color already displaced from one home–were reportedly terrified and had no idea who the man was or if he would return.
Oliphant’s investigation led her to a suspect, Assistant City Attorney Rick Tast, who was an associate of the landlord of the house, a Lincoln Fire Department employee named Jeremy Hosek. Both Hosek and Tast own a number of rental properties in Lincoln (including one Tast rents to Dale Bolinger, a sex offender who tried to behead, cook, and eat a 14-year-old girl).
In an interview with Seeing Red Nebraska, Tast admitted he entered the home that evening, but claims he did so in his role as a private lawyer on behalf of his client, Hosek. He said that he did not believe the house to be occupied (which, for what it’s worth, we think is true, because the tenant, “Rob,” had relocated to another state).
Oliphant’s investigation took a long time, in part, it seems, due to concerns about blowback from criminally citing the Assistant City Attorney. Nonetheless, in July–almost two months after the incident–Oliphant and her supervising officer, Angela Sands, who had helped Oliphant with the investigation, cited Tast for a single count of misdemeanor criminal trespass.
For a single misdemeanor charge, the case was a big deal. In July, all of Lancaster County’s judges recused themselves from the case and a special visiting judge was appointed. A special prosecutor from the state Attorney General’s office was appointed to prosecute the case.
III. How Two LPD Officers Received Brady Letters
The case against Tast plodded along. In the fall, Sands filed a complaint with the Department, saying that Tast had verbally berated her while she was directing traffic downtown on a football game day. She viewed this as a possible attempt at witness intimidation. (Tast told Seeing Red Nebraska that he does not recall this incident.)
Then, in late October, an LPD employee who is described as having a fierce personal grudge against Laura Oliphant left the force. On the way out, the employee filed a complaint against Oliphant with Internal Affairs.
The complaint claimed Oliphant had lied about how she mishandled a piece of evidence collected at the scene of a robbery at Gateway Mall earlier that year.
Here is what is not in dispute: while patting down a suspect at the scene, Oliphant had found a bullet and put it in her pocket to be able to continue searching the suspect. She then forgot about the bullet and left it in her pants, failing to tag it as evidence. Because the “chain of custody” was broken, the bullet was not usable as evidence. That much everyone agrees upon, and Oliphant was written up for the mistake by her supervisor, Angela Sands.
The “lie” the other officer reported to IA in October involved what happened to the pants with the bullet in the pocket. Oliphant had said she left the pants in a locker at work, but the complainant claimed she had actually taken them home and washed them, then lied about leaving them in the locker. According to a source familiar with the complaint and LPD policy, there was no evidence that Oliphant had lied or taken the pants home, and there would have been no reason to lie because the offense and consequence–a write-up for accidentally mishandling a piece of evidence–would have been the same either way. But because it was an alleged lie, an IA investigation began.
In December 2021, Internal Affairs concluded their investigation and found no evidence that anyone had lied in regard to the bullet. They found no evidence that Oliphant had taken it home. But according to a source, Chief Ewins announced that she was overriding IA’s conclusion, and what’s more, she was tacking on a conclusion that Angela Sands had colluded in the lie with Laura Oliphant–which seems to have never even been alleged previously–resulting in both women being becoming “Brady/Giglio.”
In January of this year, the special prosecutor gave Tast’s lawyer the Brady/Giglio documents for Sands and Oliphant, two indispensable witnesses in the case against Tast.
And at the end of February, Tast’s lawyer filed to have the case taken away from the Nebraska Attorney General’s office because an employee there (unaffiliated with the case) had once dated Sands and because Sands and Oliphant “have a documented history of collusion and falsification of official records.” In other words, let’s trash the progress on this increasingly expensive and time-consuming misdemeanor case and start all over again with a new prosecutor from somewhere else. Or would it just be easier to drop the charge?
Thus, Brady/Giglio is currently being used to discredit two key witnesses in a case against an Assistant City Attorney who is alleged to have entered a friend’s rental and terrified a family of color who was fleeing domestic violence.
Brady/Giglio letters are supposed to be a tool to keep corrupt cops from unjustly locking up defendants. In this case, it appears that they were used to get rid of two cops who had become inconvenient to people in power but had done nothing corrupt. Angela Sands, who had complained numerous times about conditions at LPD, was inconvenient to multiple people in the Department.
As a source said, “This whole cops investigating cops thing just doesn’t work for any kind of scenario.”
It appears that the criminal case against an Assistant City Attorney, who had connections throughout City government and LPD in particular, will be very difficult to make now that these women have been fired.
We don’t know why Tast entered the house on May 21. We can only see what has followed: a family fleeing domestic violence was traumatized. The landlord–who bought the house in 1996 for $20,000 and was collecting $750 a month on it 25 years later–evicted them. Two women police officers who had been held in high regard have lost their jobs under accusations about their character. The person who walked in the back door of the house is now likely to have the misdemeanor charge dropped.
Note: the details of the case presented here come from court records and interviews. These matters have not been adjudicated in court. The case is still active, and the next hearing is March 11.