Covington police officer involved in earlier dispute is placed on leave

Covington police Sgt. Stephen Short, who earlier was suspended and demoted for his role in the controversial arrest of two football referees during an October game in Covington, has again run afoul of Chief Tim Lentz — this time allegedly for accessing the records and recordings of two phone calls Lentz made to the officials who were arrested, as well as another phone call made by a detective to a possible witness to the incident.

Short is on paid administrative leave pending the outcome of the investigation. Lentz said he notified Short of the investigation Tuesday.

The investigation arose out of a request Short made to the police chief for documents and evidence to assist in his appeal of the earlier suspension; that appeal is set to be heard by the city’s police and fire civil service board in late March. In his request for evidence, Short listed the two phone calls Lentz made to the referees and the third call made by the detective, including specific dates and times. All phone calls from the Covington Police Department are logged and recorded, Lentz said.

“The issue is he is accessing the chief of police’s phone calls,” Lentz said Tuesday night.

The department has a policy prohibiting employees from accessing confidential information for personal gain, Lentz said. Before his demotion in January, Short was head of the department’s internal affairs unit, which may have allowed him access to calls made from the department, Lentz said.

When asked who had access to the phone logs and recordings, Lentz said, “I don’t know. That’s one of the things I have to find out.”

Short’s attorney, Michael Fawer, said Lentz’s latest move was incomprehensible.

“The chief knows nothing about law or due process,” Fawer said. He scoffed at the idea that Lentz could claim the tapes were confidential, comparing that with President Richard Nixon’s assertion of executive privilege to try to keep control of Oval Office recordings during Watergate.

“Chief Lentz is a law unto himself, so it would seem,” Fawer said.

Fawer said the existence of the recordings was well known within the Police Department, and it was perfectly legitimate to subpoena them for Short’s appeal.

“We have a right to” the material for Short’s defense, he said.

Short was at the center of the controversy that erupted after a heated confrontation between Short and two football officials at a game between St. Paul’s and Mandeville High School in Covington. The two officials were arrested and booked on a count of public intimidation of a police officer. The charges were later dropped at the request of Mayor Mike Cooper and Lentz, who was named chief just days after the incident.

Soon afterward, Lentz launched an investigation into the incident, which led to Short’s suspension and demotion Dec. 30. At the time, Lentz said he believed Short’s temper “got the best of him.” A second officer under investigation in connection with the incident chose to retire.

Under civil service rules, Short has the right to appeal his punishment, which included a two-week suspension and a demotion from lieutenant to sergeant. He has been back on duty since the middle of last month.