NORFOLK, Va. (WAVY) - Norfolk Police Chief Bruce Marquis on Tuesday faced members of City Council and their questions about the chief's handling of the investigation into the death of recruit John Kohn.
"I can do better as the Chief of Police," said Marquis. "I accept full responsibility for the failure to communicate thorough information concerning the investigation into recruit Kohn's death in a more timely fashion to the city manager, this council and to the public."
At the meeting, in which the city also announced it's forming a panel to review the police department's training academy, Marquis said, "We need to go back and evaluate our safety measures."
Kohn, along with his academy class, was going through defensive tactics training in December. The chief at first said Kohn died in the hospital after an accidental collision in a doorway with another recruit. Then videos surfaced showing Kohn doing ground fighting training 11 minutes after the collision. The video showed Kohn on his back, taking blows to the head from an instructor who was wearing boxing gloves. Kohn appeared to pass out briefly and was then rushed to the hospital. He died several days later. The medical examiner is still working on a full autopsy report.
"I accept full responsibility for the failure to communicate thorough information concerning the investigation into recruit Kohn's death in a more timely fashion to the city manager, this council and to the public," Marquis told City Council Tuesday.
Councilman Barclay Winn asked Marquis, "Chief, have you or your staff, to your knowledge, covered up or been dishonest about any of the facts in this incident?" Marquis responded, "Sir, absolutely not. We have, we have provided the information completely above board."
"We have nothing to hide," he said.
Last week the chief publicly threw members of his own command staff under the bus, blaming them for his lack of knowledge on the case. Tuesday night though, it was clear, the chief made sure to read the full case file before facing council's questions.
"There's been absolutely nothing withheld from the media. The information I had I provided. But we need to go back and take a look at how things are communicated. We need to do a much better job in communicating information up, there's absolutely no doubt about that and I take the lead on that, I take the blame on that also," said Marquis.
The chief also promised to personally tell all new recruits to not be afraid to tell an instructor if they are injured. "Advise them, 'Hey look, we know that you're trying to get through this training. We know it's stressful. We know it's physically demanding. We know it's emotionally tiring, but if you have an injury, regardless of whether it's a small or large injury, please let someone know.'"
But multiple sources told WAVY.com they were there just last week when Chief Marquis, welcoming a brand new class of recruits, told them, "If you can't take a couple of punches during defensive tactics, why are you here?"
Councilman Tommy Smigiel said Monday that he had lost confidence in the chief. After Marquis addressed council on Tuesday Smigiel said his confidence in the chief "increased a little bit because this was the first time that I heard the police chief take full accountability for what happened."
"It has been my philosophy," the chief told council, "and it will continue to be my philosophy that this department should be as transparent as possible. We've been that way with this council, with the manager, with the media, with the public during my tenure."
As far as the panel being formed by the city to review police training practices, it will include the regional director for the Department of Criminal Justice Services, an emergency room doctor from Sentara Norfolk General Hospital, and the medical director for the Norfolk's Department of Fire and Rescue as well as an assistant police chief.
The panel will make recommendations to be reviewed by the City Administration and are expected to be implemented before the new class of recruits goes through the defensive tactics portion of the police academy.
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