ST. JOHN — The decision to close an investigation into St. John Police Chief James Kveton earlier this year was consistent with the findings of an independent inquiry, according to documents recently obtained by The Times.
Investigator Steve J. Pestikas, a retired Munster police lieutenant, conducted 32 interviews of 25 St. John police personnel as part of the inquiry.
The probe, initiated by St. John police commissioners, was spurred by public allegations from then-Officer Steven Rudzinski and Clerk-Treasurer Beth Hernandez that Kveton lacked the leadership and integrity needed to run the department.
Rudzinski has since retired from the police force.
In his 22-page report, Pestikas concluded nearly all the claims against Kveton were "totally and completely unfounded," though Pestikas said the department could benefit from improved communication, teamwork and training, as well as clearer performance standards.
Specifically, Pestikas found no evidence to support Rudzinski's claim that "a majority of patrol officers" lacked confidence in Kveton's leadership of the department because only 31% of patrol officers expressed this view, according to the report.
Pestikas also said there was no basis for allegations that Kveton created a "culture of fear" through intimidation and retribution, since the chief's policies on secondary employment and traffic ticket production followed longstanding department norms, the report concluded.
In addition, Pestikas' investigation determined there was no reason to believe claims Kveton was bypassing qualified officer candidates, taking official action for personal gain, setting unreasonable performance standards or misspending police department funds, all of which he had been accused of doing.
"The overwhelming number of allegations made specifically against Chief Kveton are totally and completely unfounded," Pestikas said. "Based upon the totality of the evidence (or lack thereof), including interviews of all department employees, there is no merit to warrant any disciplinary action against Chief Kveton."
Concerning Hernandez's allegations that Kveton was targeting officers for forced demotion, challenging civilian oversight and making improper policy changes, Pestikas noted many police officers believed Hernandez was seeking to damage the chief's reputation as payback for the chief not helping her father, a former St. John police commander, who is awaiting trial for sexual battery and ghost payrolling.
"Her actions were viewed by numerous officers as having a more sinister motive," Pestikas said. "Namely for her own political gain by having more influence on the future selection(s) of the chief of police."
In response, Hernandez said it's her opinion Pestikas was hired to write a report that primarily protected the interests of the town's board of police commissioners.
"This was a political dog and pony show at its highest level," Hernandez said. "It really wasn’t about finding out the truth, it’s about making sure the chief’s alleged actions don’t ruin the reputations and political careers of (the commissioners).
"The difference between me and them is that I put my neck out on the line because the officers who protect and serve our community came to me and asked for help after going through the proper chain of command only to fall on nothing but deaf ears. If put in this same situation again, I would do the exact same."
Kveton said he was traveling Wednesday and unable to respond to a request for comment on the report.
Records show the inquiry into the police department was ordered by the St. John Metropolitan Board of Police Commissioners after Rudzinski and Hernandez submitted complaints about the police chief to the town council on Nov. 29, 2018.
According to the report, Pestikas was hired on May 9, 2019, to conduct the inquiry. His findings were submitted to the police commissioners on May 23.
Christian Jorgensen, chairman of the police commissioners, said after receiving the report, the five-member board concluded no further inquiry into the allegations was needed.
"The police commission unanimously sought an independent investigation to ensure that there was no truth to the allegations that were made by any party," Jorgensen said. "Having been satisfied, the inquiry is now over."