The investigation conducted by an Ohio attorney into a February 2018 Hutchinson police coverup to protect a fellow officer regarded the defense they offered in interviews as rehearsed and nonsensical.
The city of Hutchinson paid $30,000 for the investigation by Douglas Duckett, of the Duckett Law Firm LLC, of Cincinnati, into the behavior of police department employees involved in the traffic stop of community policing officer Anna Ruzhanovska. She was driving erratically from Wichita to Hutchinson — crossing into the grass and nearly hitting a semi-truck head-on — with her baby boy in a car seat. She was not tested for DUI and no blood was taken.
The News requested a copy of the Duckett report and the city provided a redacted version this week. Duckett is a labor and employment lawyer, mostly working with public sector employees including law-enforcement agencies, according to his report.
Earlier this month, one of the officers who gave preferential treatment to Ruzhanovska and who was fired, Jonathan Suda, tried unsuccessfully to gain reinstatement to his job with the backing of Fraternal Order of Police Lodge No. 7. The Hutchinson City Council voted against the request.
In the Duckett report, Suda defended his actions by saying:
There was no reasonable suspicion to ask the off-duty Ruzhanovska to take a test for DUI.
Seven people called dispatchers in less than a half-hour to describe the erratic driving of the SUV by Ruzhanovska. Suda “completely dismissed the relevance of the calls,” the reports said. It states he said he “didn't consider them” and “didn’t trust them.” “The policy says I can, but I wouldn’t … We all have our own discretion.” Suda would only consider such reports, he said, if the caller were an off-duty police officer or deputy, the Duckett report said.
Suda and officer Michael Rivers, also since fired, regarded Ruzhanovska as a police officer, not a “citizen,” even though she was off-duty and in civilian clothes at the time of the stop. That is why Suda and Rivers considered it permissible to turn off body cameras despite department policies.
Duckett pressed the two on that reasoning:
“When I asked whether a police officer who encountered an off-duty police officer robbing a liquor store or on the scene of a homicide would turn off their body cams, both said that they would leave the body cams on in those situations. ‘Why?’ I asked. ‘What is the difference, if a police officer is never a ‘citizen’ under the policy?’ ”
Duckett wrote that “both officers squirmed uncomfortably” during that line of questioning.
Suda stressed that he turned off his body cam because he was deferring to Rivers’ directive. Both Suda and Rivers started at the same time, but Rivers was the “first officer on the scene,” it was pointed out, and Suda followed the directive.
Rivers “bears higher culpability,” but Suda is responsible for his actions, Duckett wrote.
Ruzhanovska’s domestic partner and the father of the baby in the car, Hutchinson police officer Anthony Garcia, was on-duty that day but was not working the traffic stop. He came to the scene and Rivers instructed him to turn off the dashcam in the vehicle parked immediately behind Ruzhanovska's SUV, which Garcia did.
Garcia raised the idea of postpartum depression.
Duckett interviewed a board-certified forensic psychiatrist in Wichita, Dr. Paul Murphy, regarding postpartum depression.
Murphy “confirmed that there is simply no medical basis to believe that depression, postpartum or otherwise, can cause the kind of massively erratic driving over a sustained period that Anna Ruzhanovska displayed that day. While most medications prescribed for depression do not affect alertness or coherence in that way, some anti-anxiety medications could do so, but Ms. Ruzhanovska denied taking any medications of any kind,” Duckett wrote.
Duckett also wrote:
“As one experienced police supervisor whom I interviewed stated after he saw the brief video evidence, ‘(Anna Ruzhanovska) looked like every drunk I’ve ever arrested.’ ”
Neither Rivers nor Suda ever asked her if she had been drinking. Ruzhanovska was convicted of DUI in 2007, Duckett wrote.
“The officers and supervisors involved with this suspected DUI stop jumped to postpartum depression as an explanation for some of the most reckless driving that some of them can remember ever being reported, but none of them had any training or knowledge to support that conclusion,” Duckett wrote.
Duckett called it “amateur hour” at the Hutchinson Police Department as officers and supervisors accepted the diagnosis of postpartum depression.
"The claim that depression caused this driving pattern is, of course, simply nonsensical, as Dr. Murphy confirmed," Duckett wrote.
Four employees — Capt. Troy Hoover, Sgt. David Maness, and Officers Rivers and Suda — were fired. Garcia kept his job but was disciplined.
Duckett faulted Garcia for coming to the scene, although Duckett also found Garcia's alarm understandable. Duckett criticized as “improper” Garcia’s apparent suggestion to a dispatch supervisor to keep the matter quiet in radio communications.
Ruzhanovska resigned from the department in 2018. The incident occurred months before Police Chief Jeff Hooper started on the job in 2018.