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Village Council— RJ Hawley leaves Yellow Springs police

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Four months after the New Year’s Eve Ball Drop incident that an independent investigator described as “volatile and unsafe” due to police actions, the senior officer during the incident, RJ Hawley, is leaving the police department.

At Village Council’s May 1 meeting, Council unanimously passed a resolution that approves Village Manager Patti Bates entering into an agreement with Hawley that releases him from employment with the local department.

“This is a mutual resolution that’s in the best interests of all involved,” Village Solicitor Chris Conard said at the meeting. Conard said the resolution came in response to a contact from Hawley’s attorney saying Hawley wanted to terminate his employment in Yellow Springs.

The resolution regarding Hawley was one of several items of police business that dominated the meeting. Also, Council agreed to conduct an internal rather than external search for a new police chief, and approved two recommendations on local reform presented by the Justice System Task Force.

Many villagers had called for the Village to let go of Hawley, who was held responsible by independent investigator David Williamson for directing the actions of the officers involved in what many perceived as overly aggressive police actions during the New Year’s Eve event, when police attempted to disperse the crowd using cruisers.

During the incident, Hawley also aimed a taser at 29-year-old David Carlson, a black man, an action that Williamson’s report described as an inappropriate use of the weapon. The officer also tackled Carlson, who had allegedly leaned against the door of Hawley’s police cruiser to pin him inside. Hawley charged Carlson with a fifth-degree felony of obstructing official business, although that charge was lowered to a misdemeanor by the Greene County prosecutor last month. Hawley also charged Village Council member Marianne MacQueen with a misdemeanor for obstructing official business because she urged him to change his tactics during the New Year’s Eve event. Those charges were later dropped.

MacQueen abstained from the May 1 Council vote, which was 4–0–1.

In response to the resolution, local attorney Laura Curliss, who had represented Carlson, stated, “This is a good outcome. People have been waiting a long time” for Hawley’s termination. She also called for an apology from Hawley to the community.

The document agrees that the Village will pay Hawley 14 weeks of leave pay for the adminstrative leave he’s been on since the incident. It states that no severance pay will be given. The agreement also states that Hawley’s personnel file will not include any disciplinary actions for matters pertaining to the New Year’s Eve incident.

Regarding the amount of time that’s passed since the incident, Manager Bates said in an email on Tuesday that, “the Village was proceeding with the disciplinary process while simultaneously working on the agreement for the separation. Unfortunately these things sometimes take longer than any of us would like, but I think now the Village can move forward in a positive manner.”

Hawley had been with the department almost three years, and previously worked in Sugarcreek.

Internal search wins
Following several Council discussions regarding whether to conduct an internal search or a national search for a new police chief, Council agreed to limit its police chief search to internal candidates for the position, which has been open since former Chief Dave Hale resigned in response to the NYE incident and Brian Carlson was appointed interim chief.

“I still believe we should do only an internal search and do it as quickly as possible,” said Council member Gerry Simms on Monday night. “We’ve already resolved a lot of the issues since New Year’s Eve.”

In recent meetings some citizens, especially those involved with The 365 Project, have urged Council to conduct an external search in order to find the candidate best able to lead a progressive department. In a search timeline submitted to Council by Manager Bates, the process was estimated to take about four months, with a new chief to be named in September.

But at Monday’s meeting, Council members expressed their preference for an internal search, although Marianne MacQueen said an external process would allow the Village to “compare local and nonlocal candidates.”

However, she said, when the Village has engaged in such external searches in the past, the results haven’t been satisfying.

“When we’ve found nonlocal people for the job, none have worked out,” she said.

In the end, Council members agreed to pursue an internal search in a timely fashion, with a job description being posted internally on Tuesday of this week. Applications will be accepted until May 10, according to Bates.

Council agreed to two upcoming special meetings for the police chief hiring. Council will meet in executive session on Tuesday, May 16, to interview candidates, and on Tuesday, May 30, a community forum will take place during which chief candidates will make presentations, then answer questions from citizens.

According to Village ordinances, Bates is the one making the final decision regarding the new police chief, Curliss said.

In a related discussion, members of the Justice System Task Force presented Council with two recommendations for police reforms: to increase the use of the Yellow Springs Mayor’s Court and to hire a social worker for the police department.

According to JSTF member Dave Turner, the community favors the Mayor’s Court, a more informal community court compared to the Xenia Municipal Court, yet its use has declined markedly in recent years as local officers have sent more cases to Xenia. While the local court was used extensively during the tenure of former Police Chief John Grote, with 832 criminal and traffic cases heard in 2010, only 156 cases, including 152 traffic and four criminal, were heard during 2016, under former Chief Hale.

The JSTF recommends that the police send all cases appropropriate to Mayor’s Court to the local court, Turner said. And the recommendation is a first step in the focus on Mayor’s Court by the group, which will also consider the question of whether and how to provide a prosecutor for the court, Hempfling said.

However, currently, there’s a lack of clarity as to which cases are appropriate to Mayor’s Court, although it’s clear felonies are not allowed. Interim Chief Carlson and Manager Bates agreed to meet to clarify the Mayor’s Court situation.

In a second recommendation, the task force urged Council to hire a social worker for the police department.

“Research shows that having a social worker on the staff makes an impact,” according to JSTF member Kate Hamilton, who stated that typically about 80 percent of an officer’s time is spent in situations more linked to social work than law enforcement.

While the task force recommends the hiring, it is also not seeking to increase the Village budget, according to Hempfling, who said the group will next look at possible ways to finance a new position.

While Council expressed support for both recommendations, Turner stated frustration that it’s not clear what happens after Council receives the recommendations. However, Council is moving the process forward, according to Wintrow.

“We’ve said we support these, but we’re not ready to turn them into ordinances yet,” she said.
And reforming the police department is a big task, according to JSTF member Pat Dewees.

“We’ve committed ourselves to police reform. We want to move the metaphor from a warrior culture to having local guardians who align with village values,” she said. “This is a culture change that takes years. It won’t get done quickly.”

Other items of Council’s May 1 business will be covered in the May 11 News.

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