CHICAGO (AP) — The FBI searched the campus police station at Northern Illinois University for at least eight hours on Wednesday, weeks after a former NIU police officer was indicted on sexual assault charges and the department's longtime police chief was fired.
By the end of the day, however, there was no official word about why federal authorities raided the tiny building at the heart of the 25,000-student campus sometime before 8:00 a.m. and stayed late into the afternoon.
FBI spokeswoman Joan Hyde said only that search warrants were executed on campus in "an ongoing criminal investigation" involving Illinois State Police, the U.S. Department of Education and U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
The university fired police chief Donald Grady from his $200,000-a-year job on Feb. 19, accusing him of mishandling evidence in an investigation into allegations that a campus police officer had sexually assaulted a student in October 2011.
Days after Grady's dismissal, a DeKalb County grand jury indicted the 25-year-old former officer, Andrew Rifkin — reinstating charges that were filed and then dropped in November last year as authorities criticized the handling of potential evidence.
As Wednesday's raid began, the FBI went out of its way to note it "is not in response to any public safety concerns" — apparently an effort to allay any anxieties among faculty and students at NIU, where a gunman killed five students in 2008.
The 6-foot-5, tough-talking Grady was hailed as a hero for sprinting from the police station and into the nearby NIU classroom during the Feb. 14, 2008, shooting. When he and other officers arrived, the gunman, former NIU student Steven Kazmierczak, had already committed suicide. But survivors praised Grady for his bravery.
Grady's attorney, Michael Fox, said Wednesday that an investigation the chief launched into an off-the-books repository for proceeds from the sale of university-owned scrap metal may have contributed to his dismissal. The investigation led to criminal charges against eight NIU employees and a former employee last year.
"We believe his involvement in these investigations was not looked upon with great favor by those at the university," Fox said.
He said he had no information about the target of the FBI raid, saying it could be related to Rifkin or the scrap-metal investigation, or something entirely different.
"Without equivocation, (Grady) denies wrongdoing in any of these matters," he said.
Grady told The Associated Press in a phone interview later Wednesday that he had not been contacted by authorities. Asked why authorities might be at his old workplace, he said, "I have no idea."
Controversy has dogged Grady before. After becoming Wisconsin's first black police chief in the mostly white town of Bloomer in 1989, he created a stir by issuing nearly 300 tickets, including to himself, for violations of a snow-shoveling ordinance.
When he became Santa Fe, N.M., chief in 1994, he ordered officers to stop accepting free cups of coffee on the job and banned bolo ties. Police responded with a 103-5 no-confidence vote in their boss. After digging in his heels for two years, Grady resigned, saying his reforms had encountered too much resistance.
Grady was placed on administrative leave on Nov. 10, along with another officer, for allegedly failing to pass on witness statements that might have benefited Rifkin as he mounted his defense against the sexual assault accusations.
Toward the end of November, Clay Campbell, the state's attorney in DeKalb County at the time, cited alleged mishandling of information by NIU police for dropping the charges against Rifkin. It was Campbell's successor who reinstated them last month.
Adding another layer to Rifkin's case is a civil lawsuit he filed earlier this year.
The suit, now making its way through U.S. District Court in Rockford, names NIU, Grady and other officers as plaintiffs. It alleges, among other things, that Rifkin was tricked by NIU officers into signing a confession regarding the alleged sexual assault.
All the plaintiffs have denied any wrongdoing.
Rifkin's attorney, Bruce Brandwein, said Wednesday his client intends to enter a not guilty plea to the criminal sexual-assault charges.
"He absolutely denies any wrongdoing," Brandwein said.