Former Wahoo Police Chief Bruce Ferrell abruptly resigned in November after he was caught having sex with a Wahoo resident, two law enforcement officials said.
The way he was caught, according to the sources? His body camera was recording.
Now Ferrell, who became Wahoo’s police chief after retiring from the Omaha Police Department, is being investigated by the Nebraska State Patrol, the sources said.
Asked a series of questions on Friday – including why he quit and whether he tried to have the body camera footage removed – Ferrell said: “I won’t comment.” He gave the same answer when asked if he had a lawyer.
Ferrell abruptly resigned on November 11 without giving notice. In an interview less than a week later, he told the Lincoln Journal Star it was “just about time.”
“Nothing harmful,” Ferrell told the Lincoln newspaper. “No smoke, no mirrors – nothing at all.”
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Turns out there was a mirror, of sorts.
Body camera footage showed Ferrell, partially dressed in his Wahoo police uniform, having sex with the woman who called police about an estranged boyfriend, the sources told World- Herald.
The patrol’s investigation is to determine whether the woman consented to the sexual activity or felt she had a choice whether or not to consent. One of the sources said the woman suggested the sex with Ferrell was consensual.
Nebraska State Patrol spokesman Cody Thomas confirmed that an investigation into Ferrell was “ongoing,” but declined to elaborate on the nature of the investigation. He said the results will be forwarded to the office of Nebraska Attorney General Doug Peterson to determine if charges will be filed.
Other states have laws that prohibit an officer from having sex with a person while on duty, regardless of their consent. The closest Nebraska has to such a law is a law that makes it a crime for a jailer or prison guard to have sex with an inmate.
This prison ban and other states’ bans on officers having sex while on duty operate on a simple principle: that a person may not feel they have a choice about consenting to an officer wearing a badge and/or a firearm.
Nebraska prosecutors have already charged officers under normal first-degree sexual assault laws. In a 2005 case, an Omaha police officer was convicted of first-degree sexual assault after forcing a prostitute to perform oral sex on him in his police car.
Absent a sexual assault charge in this case, Ferrell could face a felony charge of tampering with evidence, one of the sources said. A source alleged that Ferrell deleted or attempted to delete the body camera footage.
The authorities were able to keep it. Under state law, any agency with body cameras is required to retain footage for at least 90 days.
Ferrell is also being investigated for his activity following up claims by the Wahoo woman that she was abused. A source said he harassed the man accused of abuse.
Wahoo City Administrator Melissa Harrell declined to answer questions about the Ferrell investigation, referring questions to the state patrol. At the time of her resignation, she told the Journal Star that officials had no indication Ferrell planned to step down until she did, effective the same day, November 11. In fact, she said, the city didn’t receive her resignation letter until the day after she left because of Veterans Day.
The investigation into Ferrell is the second in a year involving a senior member of the Wahoo Police Department. Wahoo, a town of about 4,800 people 40 miles west of Omaha, has a police force of about half a dozen officers.
Sean Vilmont, 51, was charged with two counts of sexual assault by touching and one count of unlawful trespassing last year after allegations he continued to abuse a pre-teen girl. Vilmont has pleaded not guilty and is awaiting a hearing.
Ferrell had promoted Vilmont to lieutenant in the summer of 2019.
Before Ferrell became Wahoo’s police chief in February 2018, he worked for 23 years as an Omaha police officer. With the Omaha Police, he was a lead gang unit investigator and led national and regional coalitions of gang detectives. He then served as an investigator for the Bellevue police and as a part-time officer in Valley.
Wahoo suspended its use of body cameras in January 2017 after then-Police Chief Ken Jackson said it was too expensive to meet state requirements for storing the footage.
In May 2019, Ferrell went to the Wahoo City Council and “discussed re-enforcing the department’s use of body cameras,” according to the meeting minutes.
In turn, city council members unanimously reinstated body cameras for Ferrell and each of his officers.