Deputy Chief Eric Crank is acting police chief.
Four weeks later, no information has been released from the city about who is conducting the investigation, when it will be completed and if it involves any alleged criminal wrongdoing.
Lolli stated at the end of the letter to Birk: “Please note that this administrative leave in not a disciplinary action or adverse employment action.”
Stephen Imm, Birk’s attorney told the Journal-News on Jan. 8, “I don’t believe that the chief has done anything to merit any disciplinary action.”
Imm said he is unaware of any criminal allegations against Birk. He added as far as he knows the investigation into the issue is being conducted internally, but he is unsure by whom.
Lolli wouldn’t budge when asked to shed light on the investigation last week, answering “no comment” to most questions.
“It is being handled internally through the administrative route,” Lolli said. “He was placed on administrative leave, and the matter is still being looked into. Period.”
He declined to name the person investigating or if any of the allegations are criminal and are perhaps being investigated by a police agency.
“No comment,” Lolli said. “Once again, we do not comment on personnel issues. We have a responsibility to due diligence to all our employees, especially confidentially where the law allows.”
The city manager said, “We hope to resolve this situation as soon as possible.”
Birk’s lengthy personnel file contains nothing pertaining to action that may have resulted in his leave, according to a Journal-News investigation. He was hired in 1997 and rose through the ranks with promotions. Evaluations consistently indicated he met expectations, exceeded expectations or was ranked outstanding. There are some disciplinary actions early in his career, one pertaining use of force in which other officers were also disciplined during an arrest incident.
He was promoted to chief five years ago when Rodney Muterspaw retired.
The five City Council members when Birk was suspended and the four new ones who took office on Jan. 1 all have said they don’t want to comment on personnel issues in the city.
Nicole Condrey, who was mayor when Birk was placed on leave, called him “one of the most kind, thoughtful humans” she has met.
“His dedication to public service is exemplary,” Condrey said at the time.
“I still stand by that,” she said Friday.
If Birk doesn’t return and the city hires a police chief from within the department, two possible choices would be Crank and Maj. Andy Warrick, both of whom are near retirement age.
On Tuesday, longtime residents Amy King and Alan Wise — plus John Magill, a former Middletown Police lieutenant in the police department — voiced their support for Birk.
King said she sent letters to all five council members regarding Birk’s discipline, and Mayor Elizabeth Slamka was the only one who answered.
“No response is a response to me,” King said.
She understood council couldn’t share details of the ongoing investigation or why Birk was placed on leave, she said.
Wise said while he’s never had any professional contact with Birk, he always sees him at community events, representing the police department.
“The chief looks at Middletown policing in the big picture,” said Wise, who called Birk “an asset to the town.”
Magill called Birk a “consummate professional” who has earned the respect of his peers and the police department.
He asked council members to consider “every bit of character” before making a decision regarding Birk’s future as police chief.