MUNROE FALLS — A City Councilman walked out of Tuesday night’s committee meeting after arguing with a fellow legislator who raised concerns about how a 2016 complaint against two city police officers was handled.
City Councilman Chris Ritzinger decided to exit the committee meeting shortly after taking issue with Councilman Mike Barnes’ decision to discuss the two-year-old complaint.
Ritzinger did not immediately return a call seeking additional comments.
According to a document posted on Barnes’ Facebook page in August, an investigation by Police Chief Jerry Hughes in 2016 concluded that two city police officers violated the department’s Law Enforcement Database System (LEADS) policy when they used the system to run the name of a woman and neither could provide a reason why they took that action.
One officer received a one-day suspension and the second officer received a five-day unpaid suspension, according to the document posted by Barnes.
Barnes removed the Facebook post with the document after he was criticized by former Councilman and police chief Steve Stahl and Silver Lake Police Chief John Conley for the posting at the Aug. 21 council meeting.
The Stow Sentry on Aug. 14 requested an opportunity to view the personnel files and disciplinary records of the officers who were the subjects of the investigation referenced by Barnes. The Sentry had not seen the records as of press time Thursday.
Barnes raised the issue again at Tuesday’s committee meeting after Councilman Jim Iona shared a newspaper article documenting Hughes’ actions as an Akron Police sergeant in 1998 when he attempted to stop a fight and then gave first aid to a man who had been stabbed. Iona noted that Hughes received an American Red Cross Acts of Courage award for his actions.
"Good job Jerry, as always," said Iona after he passed out copies of the article.
Barnes then noted that Hughes in April referred a LEADS violation case to the city prosecutor. Though he did not say a name, Barnes was referring to the case of city police Sgt. Robert Post being terminated from his job in April and now being prosecuted on a charge of unauthorized use of LEADS. Post has pleaded not guilty to the fifth-degree felony charge and has a pretrial in the case Sept. 26.
"More recently, two officers have confessed to a LEADS violation, as well as lying to their superior officer, which is Chief Hughes," said Barnes. "The incident involved stalking, harassing a lady…"
Ritzinger interrupted and said, "It wasn’t ‘more recently.’ It was a year prior." He also took issue with the term "stalking" and noted that term was something "that you’re using, Mr. Barnes."
"How many times are we going to sit here in Council and listen to you try something in the public opinion?" asked Ritzinger.
"Until something is done about it," answered Barnes.
Ritzinger said, "This is not our job."
As the men argued, Council Vice President Jenny Markovich said, "All we’re doing is hashing over the same case over and over and over again."
"We have two officers on our police department that admitted to what would be a felony," said Barnes. "They admitted to lying to their chief. They harassed…"
When Ritzinger started challenging Barnes’ statements, Markovich pounded the gavel and said "enough" more than once. However, Barnes continued to talk and said, "This door’s been opened by Mr. Iona."
Barnes noted, "It does not appear that the other two officers were referred for prosecution."
Law Director Tom Kostoff asked Barnes what his comments had to do with the article passed out by Iona.
"Nothing," said Markovich.
"If we’re going to mention the pros, then we may as well mention the criticisms," said Barnes.
Markovich answered, "We hear the criticism constantly."
"You’re going to continue to hear it until this is all resolved," said Barnes.
As Barnes and Markovich argued, Ritzinger packed up his items, stood up and said "You all have a nice night. I’m excusing myself. I’m not going to sit here and listen to this any longer."
Barnes answered, "Good. See you later."
Ritzinger said, "Sorry gentlemen," to Hughes, Fire Chief Lee Chafin and Service Director Jim Bowery as he walked out.
Reporter Phil Keren can be reached at 330-541-9421, firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter at @keren_phil.