Interview with Syracuse Police Chief about Bernie Fine investigation

Michael Benny interviews Chief Fowler / Jessica Cain

CNY Central TMs Michael Benny was the first in Syracuse to interview Syracuse Police Chief Fowler one-on-one Tuesday morning.

(Watch Michael Benny reporting immediately following the interview)

In 2002, when the Bobby Davis phone call came into Syracuse Police alleging abuse by Syracuse University assistant basketball coach Bernie Fine, Chief Fowler was a Sgt. working the night shift on the city's southside. He did not know about the call, but he knows plenty about it now.

"It appears we could have done more with the case," Fowler told CNYcentral's Michael Benny in an interview. There was no paper trail about the phone call. To find out what happened back in 2002, the current chief had to contact former Chief Dennis Duval, and speak with the man who took the phone call, Detective Doug Fox.

The police handling of the phone call has been the subject of intense criticism. Chief Fowler knows that, and because of it, he has instituted a new policy beginning today. From now on, every call that comes into Syracuse Police in which a caller alleges abuse will be entered into a database. Fowler believes that will allow the department to better track allegations.

Chief Fowler can not say enough to defend Detective Fox's handling of the call, which came from Utah and lasted about five minutes. Chief Fowler said, "Detective Fox did absolutely nothing wrong."

When asked how Detective Fox is dealing with the criticism he's facing in the media both locally and nationally, the Chief said, "You have to think about this, how would you feel, and your family feel when you hear things about how you do your job being talked about like this? It would be troubling."

Chief Fowler will not reveal the details of his conversation with former Chief Dennis Duval, except to say the two have spoken about how the department handled the case in 2002. Michael Benny asked Chief Fowler if it is common for phone calls alledging abuse to be brought to the attention of a police chief? Chief Fowler said it is not always common. That begs the question, was former Chief Duval notified about the phone call because the allegations were against Bernie Fine? Such a high profile figure in Syracuse? Chief Fowler refuses to speculate on why the former chief was notified about a phone call that warranted no investigation in 2002.

ESPN and the Syracuse Post-Standard have been in possession of the secretly recorded Laurie Fine phone call since 2003. Should those agencies have turned the tape over to police years ago? Would that have changed the nature of the investigation? Chief Fowler told Michael Benny, "We would have been interested in that phone call. There is no telling what that could have done for this case."

The Chief will not say that ESPN and the Post-Standard had an obligation to turn over the tape years ago. Chief Fowler said, "I understand these news organizations have their policies, and I don't know what they are." Bottom line from the Chief - having that phone call would have certainly launched an investigation into Bernie Fine years ago. Syracuse Police first heard the tape when it was presented to detectives on November 17.

As for the dispute which has been called "A war between the Onondaga County District Attorney and Syracuse Police," the chief has turned over what little the department has to say about the 2002 phone call from Bobby Davis.

Questions remain about the relationship between the chief prosecutor and police. District Attorney Bill Fitzpatrick recently accused the police department of a "cover-up" on the Fine case. Fitzpatrick also said citizens of Syracuse should be concerened that they, "...don't have a police department, you have a fiefdom."

Fitzpatrick says the subpoena he was granted seeking evidence on the current and prior Fine investigation was met with an expletive from a Deputy Chief. "Tell your boss to go F-himself," Fitzpatrick said his server was told upon handing over the subpoena. Chief Fowler says he runs a professional department, but does not employ "robots." "Professionalism does not come without passion, the people who work for me are not void of human emotions," the chief said.

Just prior to CNY Central's interview with Chief Fowler, he released a lengthly statement saying, "I would like to set the record straight and clear up some misconceptions that have surfaced in the media about what did or did not happen in 2002 under a previous Syracuse Police Department Administration when allegations of abuse by Bernie Fine were brought to the attention of a Syracuse Police Detective."

The statement continued to say, "I was not the Chief in 2002 and I cannot change the procedures in place at that time or the way this matter was then handled. But what I can and will do as Chief today is ensure that moving forward, all reports of sexual abuse are formally documented. I have ordered a review of all Syracuse Police Department policies and procedures regarding the documentation of sexual abuse allegations made over the phone and appropriate changes will be made accordingly.

The Syracuse Police released information to the District Attorney about the 2002 allegations of sexual abuse against Syracuse University assistant coach Bernie Fine Tuesday.