Ga police chief resigns over missing girl probe

January 19, 2012 - 6:35 PM

ATLANTA (AP) — The police chief of a north Georgia town resigned after a scathing report found he took a "laid back" approach to the search for a 7-year-old girl whose body was found days later in a trash compactor, the city's manager said Thursday.

Canton Police Chief Jeff Lance stepped down after the 17-page review revealed his department of about 50 officers violated several of its own policies and made many mistakes in the search for Jorelys Rivera, said city manager Scott Wood.

The girl was reported missing at her apartment complex about 7:30 p.m. on Dec. 2. Days later, Ryan Brunn, a 20-year-old maintenance worker at the complex, was charged with her killing. Brunn pleaded guilty Tuesday to molesting and killing the girl and explained his actions in chilling detail. He was sentenced to life in prison without parole.

A call to Lance for comment was not immediately returned.

A 17-page review by LaGrange Police Chief Louis Dekmar said Lance and his department made a host of mistakes.

The inquiry said there was little doubt that Rivera was already dead by the time Canton police received the missing child report. But it said if another such report were handled in the same manner, police "may indeed miss an opportunity to save a victim's life."

The review found that the officer who responded to the initial call treated the case as a routine one that "would be solved in the same manner as dozens of other such cases that the agency had handled in 2011."

Local officers arriving to search for Rivera failed to activate their dash-board cameras to record the scene, failed to immediately determine if any sexual predators lived or worked nearby, and didn't report her case to a national registry until almost a day after she went missing, the report said.

The report said Lance didn't arrive at the apartment complex in the town of about 23,000 until around 10:15 a.m. the next morning — about 17 hours after the child was last seen. When he did arrive, it said he was talking to several other officers about the "Georgia game" and eventually turned the TV to a football game.

"Personnel present at the scene frequently characterized the chief's level of concern as 'laid back,'" the report said.

Lance failed to launch a separate criminal investigation or heed advice to process Rivera's home as a crime scene, the report said.

"There was a clear absence of leadership by the agency head predicated on the assumption that this was a routine 'runaway or missing child, and she would turn up,'" the report said. "The police chief failed to act after he was placed on notice of the incident, in a manner that galvanized the available resources and communicated a sense of urgency to his personnel and assisting outside agencies."

Other problems with the investigation surfaced earlier. A Cherokee County deputy who failed to immediately report seeing drops of blood in an apartment during the search for the girl was earlier ordered to undergo additional training. That was not included in the latest report.

Wood, the city manager, said the review should answer questions that were raised about the department's policies and procedures.

"Although sadly the family must still deal with the heartache and loss of this young child, from a legal perspective the matter has now been fully concluded," he said in a statement.