Town in shock at cop’s 26 criminal charges
Four detectives in one country town have been stood down following a misconduct investigation involving bribery allegations.
Such is the standing of the most senior officer targeted - Detective Sergeant Steve Howard - that many locals have come forward to defend him, despite him facing 26 criminal charges.
At the centre of the case is a stolen diamond ring, a decades-old friendship and allegations that threaten to derail four policing careers.
In 2018, NSW Police's internal affairs unit and Western region police began investigating reports of misconduct at Parkes and Forbes police stations, specifically relating to Sergeant Howard.
The 56-year-old has spent almost 25 years as a police officer in and around Forbes, a regional town in NSW's Central West.
He has led investigations into the kind of small-town crimes that get people talking - the senseless bashing of an innocent woman in her home, the death of a young bloke in a police pursuit on a back road, and a ram-raid at the local hardware store.
And aside from being a country copper, Howard also comes from a farming family with deep roots in Forbes.
There are few people who don't know him.
In an interview with ABC Local in 2014, Howard said being a detective in a rural community added a level of complexity to the job.
He also spoke about playing by the rules.
"As police, we have to play by the rules, and we've got to abide by the law," Howard said. "A lot of criminals don't have any of that to deal with - they can lie, cheat, do whatever they like."
Now the long-serving officer is preparing to defend his reputation after being accused of misconduct, leaking sensitive information and attempting to pervert the course of justice.
The Saturday Telegraph has learned investigators had Sergeant Howard under surveillance from last year as part of an investigation into bribery allegations.
During that surveillance, police received information that Sergeant Howard allegedly passed on sensitive information about suspects in a break-and-enter investigation to the ex-husband of Forbes Mayor Phyllis Miller.
The ex-husband had a diamond ring stolen from his home during a break-in.
As part of his own attempts to recover the jewellery, he reached out to people who might have known the thief and could get the ring back.
It was never recovered.
Contacted last week, Ms Miller unequivocally defended Sergeant Howard, a friend of more than 30 years, and said country policing was very different to city policing.
"You really are intimately part of the community," she said.
"My knowledge of Steve, he is a very, very good country policeman.
"He has always had the best interests of the Forbes community. Whatever the rules are, I believe he is a decent human being."
On May 26, Sergeant Howard was arrested in his home town and charged with dozens of offences, including holder of public office engaged in misconduct and unlawfully disclosing information.
He was also charged with disclosing information about a registrable person, suggesting that he revealed the identity of someone on the Child Protection Register.
Suspended on full pay, he was charged with another five offences this month.
According to court documents, the allegations occurred between January and May.
At least some of those charges relate to his conversations about the diamond ring but investigators are tight-lipped on what else, if anything, they have uncovered, only describing the allegations as very serious.
Three of his colleagues have also been charged for allegedly hindering the investigation into Howard.
Detective Senior Constable Paula Farmer was charged with misconduct in public office, attempting to pervert the course of justice and hinder an investigation.
It is understood one of those offences related to the 40-year-old allegedly obtaining a second phone that she didn't disclose.
Detective Senior Constables John William O'Brien and Filiz Kucukakyuz, who received a police medal in 2013, were charged with the same offences.
The case was mentioned briefly in Parkes Local Court on Monday this week and has been adjourned to September.
Originally published as Town in shock at cop's 26 criminal charges