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Village Council — Discipline process continues

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The disciplinary process for Yellow Springs Police Cpl. David Meister continues this week after a motion failed at Council’s July 16 meeting that would have halted the process.

Council Member Judith Hempfling proposed that the Village decline further funds to Village Solicitor Chris Conard to pursue the discipline. Hempfling’s motion did not reach a vote as no Council member seconded her motion.

Conard is representing the Village in negotiations with Meister and his attorney ahead of a pre-disciplinary hearing that has yet to be scheduled (see sidebar).

2nd inquiry launched

The Yellow Springs Police Department has launched a second investigation into recent actions by Cpl. Dave Meister, according to Meister’s attorney, David Duwel, last week. The investigation involves traffic stops made by Meister in April and May, although details have not been released, Duwel said.

An initial investigation into two traffic stops made by Meister in March sparked community controversy in recent weeks over what some perceived as overly harsh disciplinary actions proposed by Police Chief Brian Carlson. 

A pre-disciplinary hearing on the disciplinary recommendations following the first investigation, originally planned for July 6, still has not taken place, Duwel said, stating that he and Village Solicitor Chris Conard are currently in discussions. The attorneys hope to find a compromise that’s agreeable both to Meister and the police department.

“We’re talking about lots of things. We’re exchanging ideas,” Duwel said.

If the current discussions don’t yield an agreement between Meister and the police, a hearing will take place, although it has not yet been scheduled, Duwel said. And the hearing officer will no longer be Village Clerk of Council Judy Kintner, as originally planned. Instead, an independent person not on Village staff will be selected, in response to a request to the Village from Duwel.

—Diane Chiddister

Meister requested the hearing to challenge the discipline proposed by YSPD Chief Brian Carlson in a May memo to Village Manager Patti Bates. Carlson based the recommended discipline upon Meister’s actions in two March traffic stops with possibly intoxicated individuals in which Meister’s actions “could have resulted in harm to the general public and or the offender,” along with “multiple past disciplines,” according to the memo.

At the meeting Hempfling said that the Village has made mistakes during the process and that it should, in a collaboration with the Chief, Village Manager and Council, “reset and resolve the situation in a more positive way.” (See Hempfling’s “Other voices” on page 4.)

“There’s been mistakes, some significant ones in many parts of the Village administration, and we have to look at them,” Hempfling said. 

Specifically, Hempfling noted that HR policies requiring annual performance evaluations have not been followed — in Meister’s nine years at the YSPD he was only evaluated twice — and that the Village has not given local police clear guidelines on how community policing might be specifically applied.

“I believe the faulty policies and practices that are evident to me in a lot of the HR practices are the foundation of this current disciplinary process,” Hempfling said. 

But the four other Council members said they wanted to see the disciplinary process continue. Several also acknowledged the need to improve evaluation and feedback processes in the department, albeit separately, and criticized the role of social media on public discourse around the disciplinary process.

Council President Brian Housh said that even though there is a lot that the Village can “do better on,” that there are legitimate reasons why Meister’s actions warrant this current disciplinary process. 

“There are issues around policies and procedures and best practices but there are also some fundamental issues that came up that were not the proper balance between leniency and safety,” Housh said.

Housh added that he knows enough about the situation to believe that discipline is appropriate, but that more information is needed before he can make a decision.

“Until we’ve done that preliminary hearing, I’m not ready to make any decision about where we go next,” Housh said.

Citizens also spoke during the discussion, most in support of Meister and with skepticism of the disciplinary process thus far. 

Carlos Landaburu urged the police department to stop the disciplinary process and restart it again with more transparency.

“Perhaps that would lead to a much better and more trustable outcome once the process has changed,” he said. 

Jeff “Pan” Reich noted several “hallmarks of unfair targeting” in Meister’s disciplinary record and asked Council members to open their eyes to the possible ethical and legal ramifications of the process.

“To pursue a legal battle will not serve our village’s best interest,” Reich said. “Meister is deserving of your protection for unfair targeting and retaliation.”

But Council member Kevin Stokes countered an apparent distrust of public officials and other leaders expressed at the meeting and in the public discourse, saying that “no one is out to get anybody.”

“I believe everyone involved in leadership in the Village is operating in as honorable a manner as we can,” Stokes said. “I would like to think that that’s the expectation that folks would have of us.”

Stokes supports continuing the disciplinary process, saying at the meeting, “it is important to allow the process to continue its course.” He encouraged villagers to trust the process, since the public is not privy to all the details of the case, and to allow him to be optimistic about its outcome.

“I look forward to a respectable process and a reasonable outcome,” he said. “I envision at the end of this process that Dave Meister will still be a YS police officer.”

In her remarks, Council Vice President Marianne MacQueen said that the situation isn’t as simple as “a police officer being unfairly treated,” and that while the disciplinary process could be better, she is not an expert on police personnel discipline — only the Village manager is.

The Village has been willing to negotiate with Meister, MacQueen noted of the process. In addition, any policy changes to the department should take place in parallel to Meister’s disciplinary process, not as part of it, she said.

“I do think we need to look at our structures. I don’t think doing it in an individual case is the way to do it,” MacQueen said. 

MacQueen is more concerned, she said, about the impact that the situation has had on officer morale, citing the “nasty stuff” on social media as a contributing factor.

Council member Lisa Kreeger also touched on the “toxic environment” of social media that she believes has damaged the community and broken the confidentiality a fair process requires. 

“What’s been disorienting for me is that … this situation has been tried publicly in a realm of imperfect information and highly uncivil discourse,” Kreeger said. 

Further, Kreeger said that “accusations of bullying and revenge” between police that have been aired on social media are concerning.

“I expect to believe that if that was happening, Chief Carlson would know and he would never have tolerated it,” Kreeger said. 

Kreeger added that “the process needs to play out,” after which Council should look at restorative justice and community policing policies and “new norms of behavior” in the department. Specifically, she noted, the Justice System Task Force needs to spend as much time as it has talking about overly aggressive discretion as “the risk of lenient policing that also may create safety situations.”

“We need to look at the entire continuum of what we’re talking about when we talk about discretion,” said Kreeger, who is the Council alternate for the JSTF. 

Finally, the disciplinary process is still in the early stages, Kreeger argued, saying, “it’s just exploratory, we’re not taking any action.”

In other citizen comments, Ken Odiorne said he doesn’t believe the problem is one of “cyber bullying” but instead social media engagement shows that many villagers care about the situation, while Council seems to be “missing something.”

Odiorne advised Council that the Village should “back off Corporal Meister,” and instead look to part ways with Carlson and the YSPD’s two sergeants, which he said “are not suitable for the kind of policing our town wants.”

“I think the organization is corrupt. I think it could not be less competent than it is now,” Odiorne said of the YSPD, encouraging Council to continue its work with the Justice System Task Force to transform local policing.

Robin Richardson-Coy, who lives just north of Yellow Springs, said Meister has proven to be an outstanding employee. In an era of distrust of police officers, “Officer Dave has the trust of this community,” she noted.

“Officer Dave has been doing the community policing that you guys are requesting,” Richardson-Coy added.

One citizen who spoke, Leslie Scheper, said she is undecided about the issue. Scheper went on to ask several questions about what led to the recommended discipline, saying she was curious about whether the Village wants officers to have discretion or to operate “100 percent by the book.”

“I’m wondering what the crux of the issue is that brought all of this out,” Scheper said.

In response, Bates said she could not answer Scheper’s questions “because they are related to the specifics of the case.”

Other items from Council’s July 16 agenda will be covered in next week’s News.

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