One almost needs a flow chart to convey the complexity and volume of bungling leading up to the suspension this week of a Point Township police officer who admits he began a romantic relationship with a woman who had come to the department to report an alleged sexual assault.
The first problem was that Police Chief Joshua Vankirk agreed to have his department investigate a sexual assault complaint filed by his cousin.
The second problem was that police chief assigned the case to an officer and then continued to try to guide the investigation despite his relationship to the victim.
The third problem was that the officer assigned to the sexual assault case, Wade Lytle, got romantically entangled with a victim, a move of questionable ethics and one that completely destroyed the credibility of an investigation already compromised by the chief's involvement.
The fourth problem is that a man accused of sexual assault sat in jail awaiting trial while all of the above was occurring.
The fifth problem was that the prosecutor trained in the handling of sexual assault cases learned of both the relationship of the police chief and the relationship of the police officer to the victim and did nothing.
The sixth problem was that when township officials learned of the situation, their solution did not tackle the needs of justice, the organization of the police department or the implications of the scandal on the prosecution.
The seventh problem was that township officials also allegedly offered to cover everything up if Lytle would quietly resign.
A whole lot of things went wrong.
Most of those missteps involved deservedly well-regarded people who have accepted the responsibility of serving the public and generally do so commendably. However, this cascade of ethical lapses culminating in a cluster of incompetence brings questions about judgment, integrity and public service.
The central issue is: Those in public service have an obligation to put the public interest before personal relationships.
When circumstances suggest that questions about conflicts of interest will arise, public servants must step aside.
The Point Township Police Department should never have handled this case.
The investigating officer should never have entered into a personal relationship with a victim. And all the elected and appointed officials who learned about the situation should have intervened more responsibly, more expeditiously.