Jacksonville Sheriff's Office Closes Noose Case

After nine months of investigation, 75 interviews and 28 polygraph tests, the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office closed the case with no answers of who put nooses inside a downtown fire station.

The investigation began in February after two black firefighters at Fire Station No. 4 reported finding nooses on their gear. A third firefighter reported a similar incident during fire training in August 2005.

Police released two multiple-page incident reports just before noon Tuesday show that two fire department employees' polygraph tests showed "deceptive" results, and one of the potential victims was uncooperative in the investigation.

According to the report, Rufus Smith, the black firefighter who found both of the nooses in the February incident, did not pass the lie detector test.

Neither did Lt. Matt Cipriani, a white employee who worked the previous shift at the firehouse.

The other black firefighter on duty with Smith, Roderick Laws, refused to take a polygraph test.

Smith was offered a chance to retake the test, which he initially agreed to, but then changed his mind.

Cipriani voluntarily retook the polygraph test, which the report said again came back with deceptive results.

By late March, Laws told police through his attorney that he no longer wanted to talk with investigators.

Cipriani told detectives that he had witnessed pranks or jokes being playing at the fire station and he probably would not intervene "because it is common in the fire station." But Cipriani said, "I don't think nooses were a joke because of what everyone knows the nooses to represent."

Several firefighters interviewed noted racial tension at Fire Station No. 4 was higher after Laws filed a complaint of unsafe working conditions, claiming he was hit with water from a deck gun during a training incident.

In 2002, Smith filed a federal lawsuit claiming discrimination over promotions within the department.

The reports end by saying, "Investigative efforts are suspended as of 11-27-06 pending any further information or credible evidence."

"We could not prove that the noose was planted by a coworker who failed the polygraph twice, or our two victims, or by anybody at Fire Station No. 4," said Jacksonville Sheriff's Office Director Michael Edwards, who headed up the investigation. "I'm disappointed in the outcome, but I'm not disappointed in our investigative efforts."

Last Wednesday, the Justice Department concluded there was not enough evidence to file charges or pinpoint blame. Citing lack of cooperation by one of the alleged victims and a "culture of mistrust" within the Jacksonville Fire Rescue Department, U.S. Attorney for the Middle District of Florida, Paul Perez, wrote Sheriff John Rutherford, saying his office could not figure out who left the nooses at the fire station.

"In the end, the evidence was inconclusive to suggest either a hate crime or a possible hoax," Perez wrote.

On Monday, Mayor John Peyton said he was disappointed in the Justice Department's report and was still hopeful to find out what happened.

"I'm disappointed that we don't know who did it. I would really like to be able to hold that person up, and demonstrate how unacceptable that is," Peyton said. "Now, we are not really sure if it was a hoax planted by the alleged victims or whether it was someone else. Not knowing is what I think is frustrating."

Peyton also had some harsh words for one of the firefighters who said he found the nooses.

"I respect the work the attorney general did. They really worked hard on this. I am disappointed that the alleged victims did not cooperate better. That was an impediment to the investigation," Peyton said on Monday.

On Tuesday, despite the closing of the local investigation into the nooses, the mayor said he was far from finished.

"We're all in search of the truth here, and I think there's a duty of a person employed by this city to tell the truth and come forward. I don't accept the fact that they were intimidated or uncomfortable sharing. That's not good enough," Peyton said. "The public deserves to know what happened here and I intend to pursue every legal avenue I have available, as far as disciplinary action, to insure that city employees do not impede investigation such as this."

The city was also hoping to hear more from the fire union on Monday. It had planned to hold a news conference to offer a reward to find out who placed the nooses on the firefighters' equipment.

The Jacksonville Association of Firefighters released a statement on Monday stating it would offer a reward to find out who placed the nooses, and that it would pay for the reward with money from its own pockets. It also stated it had the backing of local businesses and the Justice Coalition.

However, late Monday afternoon the association said things had not panned out yet.

In reaction to the JSO report being released, the president of the union, Roger Lewis, said he was happy the report was out.

"I think just the report being out itself, no matter what it says, brings a little closure," Lewis said. "I think it's in the best interest … to get this money together and bring some closure to this whole incident, and let's move on. Let's bring everybody together."

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