Village Council — Meister supporters speak out
- Published: January 31, 2019
Village Council’s Monday, Jan. 22, meeting was standing room only as more than 50 villagers pressed into Council chambers. Many had come to voice their support for Officer David Meister, who for the second time in a year is the subject of an internal investigation into his professional behavior.
Meister is suspected of violating several Village of Yellow Springs policies related to ensuring public safety when he did not accompany a fellow officer on a call of a shooting at a downtown apartment on Dec. 13, 2018, according to Village documents. Meister, who was off duty but still at the station when the calls came in, told the News he was not authorized by a supervisor to work overtime and thus could not go, but would have gone if he were asked.
The matter was not on Council’s agenda, but the Citizen Concerns portion of the meeting was dominated by discussion of the investigation of Meister, a popular nine-year veteran of the department and the YSPD’s only full-time officer who lives in the village. Because Meister was previously disciplined last fall, termination is a possible outcome of the current disciplinary proceedings.
An internal investigation into Meister was launched by Village Manager Patti Bates on Dec. 14, at which point an outside agency was brought in to review the incident. Two weeks ago the Village received that review, completed by the Clark County Sheriff’s Office. Then, two days later, on Jan. 9, Bates wrote to Meister that the disciplinary process would be moving ahead, according to a letter obtained by the News.
In the next step of the process, Meister has asked the Village for a pre-disciplinary hearing for him and his attorney to offer evidence. A hearing date has not yet been set, nor has a hearing officer been selected, according to Village Solicitor Chris Conard at the meeting.
Citizens raise concerns
Nearly all of the 19 villagers who spoke up on the issue at the meeting explicitly expressed their support for Meister. Many also defended his actions on the night in question. Villagers occasionally applauded each other’s comments, and also brought in hand-held colored signs to express their approval or disapproval of a comment.
Jeff “Pan” Reich framed his remarks by saying he’s afraid Yellow Springs may lose “an incredible servant to our community,” and he suggested that Meister is being “ongoingly hounded.” Reich pointed to a “culture of fear” in the YSPD that he believed led Meister to be “hyper-sensitive” so he didn’t violate policy on overtime rules.
“I fail to see any actual violations of safety that occurred but I see very clearly an active harassment and bullying of our community’s only full-time officer who not only is our neighbor, but acts like one,” Reich said.
Carlos Landaburu told Council that Meister is an asset to the community and encouraged Council to intervene and advise the Village Manager to work with Meister instead of fighting against him.
“All of us would be better off if this situation results in some kind of working together with Meister,” Landaburu said.
Former Council member Judith Hempfling argued that Council may have an incomplete picture of the incident. For one, Meister “correctly believed there was a timely and accurate response,” she said, noting the presence of other agencies on the scene.
Hempfling also read from the Village personnel manual, which she said cautions local police from getting involved when off duty and states that overtime must be approved by a supervisor.
Meister’s decision not to go on the call was actually in line with community policing, she added.
“His actions reflect his usual calm, thoughtful, de-escalating approach, which reflects his greatest strengths as our most beloved police officer,” she said.
Sommer McGuire said she is “flabbergasted and disgusted” that Meister could be terminated for not going on the call. She relayed her personal experience with Officer Meister as a compassionate and community-centered officer. And she mentioned that Meister later went to check on, and offer support to, the family of the person who died in the shooting, which she found “above and beyond the call of duty.”
“To say he didn’t have safety and concern in mind couldn’t be further from the truth,” McGuire said.
Kate Mooneyham expressed her concerns about the YSPD’s recent actions, including an incident involving a Taser and audio of an officer “gleefully” talking about the rough arrest of a villager. She expressed concern about Meister being punished in light of other such incidents.
“Officer Meister … is a great officer, exemplary, and he’s the one in trouble,” Mooneyham said. “I don’t understand it. I don’t like it. I don’t want to live in a community where this is acceptable.”
Jackie Anderson framed Council’s role as to both “carry out the public good and to carry out the public trust” and encouraged a healing process.
“Find a way to make them [the public good and the public trust] work together for the healing of this community for the benefit of a good, good man, a neighbor and an officer,” Anderson said.
Maria Thornton said Meister is a “good human being” and a trusted officer and that she suspected a “vendetta” against Meister, who she believes is caught in a “damned if you do and damned if you don’t” scenario.
“We as a community care about him. He’s the only one who a lot of people trust. I think it would be a grave mistake to let him go,” Thornton said.
Amy Magnus said that Meister was using discretion in deciding not to enter the scene, and “there were a lot of people already there or on the way.”
“It’s important people exercise appropriate restraint in the situation,” she added.
Magnus said that in her previous interactions with Meister she has found him a “calming force” and that she feels the tragedy of the shooting is being used for “political maneuvering.”
“This was a wound in the community that I really feel was disrespected,” Magnus said of the incident.
Christine Roberts said that she sees the current discipline as a personnel conflict within the department, and that she has compassion for Chief Brian Carlson in dealing with that conflict.
“It’s not fair, it’s not good and it’s certainly not what the community wants,” Roberts said of the discipline of Meister.
Also speaking in support of Meister were Ken Odiorne, Peggy Koebernick, Sandy King, MJ Gentile and Erica Tallet. Christine Monroe-Beard offered a timeline of the events of that night, having been a 911 caller and also arriving at the scene to find four agencies present.
On a related topic, Henry Myers proposed a municipal loan program for police officers to help them buy property in the village to live here.
Council also receied 22 letters in support of Meister ahead of the meeting, Council Vice President Marianne MacQueen -confirmed.
Council, Village response
At the meeting, Council members offered their thoughts on the Meister discipline and also thanked citizens for their comments. Solicitor Conard spoke to the legal process now underway. Bates did not address the public on the matter and Chief Brian Carlson was not present at the meeting.
MacQueen said that the lack of trust for other officers in the YSPD besides Meister is a “problem for the department” and urged a kind of “state of village” meeting where Council can converse with villagers about it. She also addressed issues of trust within the YSPD.
“We need to have a department where [the officers] feel like they can trust each other,” she said. “What’s happening right now is not helping the situation.”
MacQueen added that she does not believe there is a “hidden agenda” or a “vendetta” against Meister.
“I have no knowledge of that nor do I believe that it is happening,” she said.
MacQueen lamented that the tires of Bates’ vehicle have been punctured three times recently, acts she believes are related to the Meister investigation.
“That is not how we should be responding,” MacQueen said. “That is a violent act.”
Council member Kevin Stokes spoke briefly, saying that comments from citizens do make a difference. He also said he hoped local police officers could be more visible on their beats to community members.
Later, Stokes said that after the incident, there was enough concern to investigate Meister’s actions and that ultimately the decision to discipline does not rest with Council.
“We are getting a lot more responsibility and blame than what we’re actually responsible for,” Stokes said.
Council member Lisa Kreeger said that she was listening to comments from community members, but also wanted them to know that “I do support an investigation.”
“Communicate with me, it’s my job to represent you and it’s also my job to understand what the facts are,” she said.
Kreeger added that she is concerned that villagers think that “it’s a done deal and decisions have been made.” Finally, Kreeger addressed issues of trust between the YSPD and the community.
“At the heart of what we want to do is to improve the relationships between the YSPD and you and that’s going to take time,” Kreeger said.
Council member Kineta Sanford said that the situation is a difficult one and that Council members were “taking in all the facts.” Sanford added her belief that the issue of community policing is central, and highlighted the upcoming launch of the new Justice System Commission.
“I do believe that at the core of that is community policing and to have a standard for that is really important,” she said.
Council President Brian Housh said that Meister is a “great guy” and that he has had positive interactions with him as an officer while hearing good things from the public. He also said that “discipline is not something that is easy to get involved in” and added that he doesn’t believe that Meister’s discipline is a “nefarious plot.”
“It doesn’t make any sense to me that there’s any political posturing,” he said. “What would be gained out of this except a lot of disruption?”
Housh went on to identify issues of communication in the situation, saying “there is something to unravel,” and that he hopes for a resolution.
Finally, Housh said that Council is in a difficult position in terms of its role, but that “at the end of the day we listen very carefully.”
“It is not technically in our purview under the charter to talk so actively about policing,” Housh said.
Solicitor Conard explained the disciplinary process now underway, which he said started with an investigation initiated by Bates. Meister’s actions were then reviewed by an outside law enforcement agency that determined there was a factual basis to move ahead, according to Conard.
The next step is a pre-disciplinary hearing, which Conard said is where “the employee can present evidence to rebut factual claims.” Ultimately, the Village Manager makes the decision, Conard said.
Conard added that it is his job “to make sure that the process is fair” so that it would not lead to a lawsuit, and encouraged villagers to see the discipline as an “evolving process.”
“It’s still in the early stage and I would encourage people to have an open mind and let this play out,” he said of the discipline.
Other items from Council’s Jan. 22 agenda will be covered in next week’s News.