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Officer back at work, but grounded

Culver council asks DA to drop charges

   Just days after she went back to work, Culver's only police officer has lost her wheels.
   The city's police car will be parked until further notice, and Kecia Powell, who was hired in July of 2007 to become the city's police chief, will be working at her desk.
   "I'm doing basically code enforcement," said Kecia Powell, who was reinstated as Culver's officer on April 14, after two months on administrative leave.
   Powell was placed on paid leave on Feb. 15, when the city began investigating a charge that she had misused the city's credit card. Before the city made any findings, a Jefferson County grand jury indicted her on March 21 on charges of first-degree official misconduct and second-degree theft.
   The credit card charge occurred while Powell was at a conference on behalf of the city in January. When her phone service was cut off, she admits that she used the city's card to reinstate her phone service.
   Powell said that she was told that the charge would be $32.60, but when the city received the bill, the total amount was $328.57. She immediately paid the bill, and asked the phone company to correct what she considered an incorrect bill.
   Stressing the importance of maintaining a phone, she pointed out, "It's not just my personal phone, it's my work phone. It's my only phone; I do not have a land line."
   The indictment against Powell notes that she "did unlawfully and knowingly perform an act, to-wit: make an unauthorized charge on a city of Culver credit card account and subsequently submit false justification to the city of Culver regarding the credit card charge ..."
   Because of the court case, District Attorney Peter Deuel asked the city to limit Powell's involvement in criminal case investigations.
   "Both I and the sheriff have asked that she not be involved in any investigations related to criminal cases until the current matters are resolved," said Deuel.
   "The nature of the charges that are against her and the conduct in which she engaged have the potential of compromising her integrity as a witness in any prosecution that we might have her involved in," he said.
   Attorney Foster Glass, who is representing Powell, objected to the district attorney's request. "A presumption of innocence is accorded persons who are accused of a crime until convicted at trial before a jury of their peers," he wrote to Mayor Dan Harnden and Councilor Shawna Clanton, who serves as police commissioner.
   Glass pointed out that the city is a governmental body entitled to make its own decisions about the guilt or innocence of its employees.
   In response, the three voting city councilors have asked the district attorney to drop the charges against Powell, stating that she had been exonerated and reinstated to active duty. Harnden, who only votes in the event of a tie, had no comment on the matter.
   "The voting commissioners find that continued use of cell phone service was reasonably necessary, and the commissioners do not believe Kecia Powell intended to obtain a nonreimbursed benefit to herself or to commit theft from the city, since it is obvious that the charge of $326 would have been billed to the city," the letter stated.
   The request was signed by councilors Anzie Adams, Thelma Krueger and Shawna Clanton.
   "At this point in time, I don't have any intention to dismiss the pending charges," Deuel said.
   While she awaits a decision on the charges, Powell will continue to work on municipal issues facing the city, according to Clanton.
   "She and I have been going through the city ordinances and going over the policy and procedures that the city has just completed, updating files, and she is responding to citizen complaints," Clanton said.
   "Hopefully this issue will be resolved soon," she added, "because until then, the county has to take all outside calls and take any criminal calls."
   Powell, who is disheartened and embarrassed by the charges and publicity the matter has received, said she is not going to give up.
   "I'm not going to throw in the towel," she said. "I'm going to fight it to the end, but I can't even fathom that it's gone this far."
   A pretrial conference will be held May 7, at 10 a.m. on the charges of first-degree official misconduct and attempted second-degree theft.