A closer look at the Meister investigation
- Published: February 7, 2019
The disciplinary process involving a local police officer continues this week after close to 20 villagers spoke in support of the officer at Council’s regular meeting last week.
The officer alleged to have violated policy, David Meister, and the Village of Yellow Springs are moving toward a pre-disciplinary hearing at Meister’s request. A date has not been set for the hearing, and a final hearing officer to weigh the evidence has yet to be selected, although a few hearing officers have been proposed, according to Village officials this week.
Meister is suspected of violating several Village of Yellow Springs policies related to ensuring public safety by not accompanying a fellow officer to the site of a fatal shooting in the village on Dec. 13, 2018, according to Village documents. Meister, who was off duty but still at the station when the calls came in, has told the News he was not authorized by a supervisor to work overtime and thus could not go, but would have gone if asked.
At Council’s Jan. 22 meeting, citizens defended Meister’s actions on the night in question and his policing in general, and also alleged that Meister may be unfairly targeted by officials at the Village, which is pursuing its second disciplinary process against Meister in a year and fourth since 2014.
A popular nine-year veteran of the department and the only full-time officer to live in the village, Meister was previously disciplined last fall. As a result, he could be terminated at the conclusion of the current disciplinary proceedings, according to the Village.
This week, the News looks at the public information available on the event, including an outside investigation by the Clark County Sheriff’s Office released to the News last week, as well as Greene County dispatch logs and 911 calls and Village policies.
The Village has not released most of the documents pertaining to the shooting, including detailed reports of the scene and witness statements, because local police are still investigating the incident — which resulted in the death of villager Kenneth Livingston — as a possible crime. Witnesses have said, however, that the shooting was self-inflicted and accidental.
Local police are still waiting for a ruling on Livingston’s cause of death as well as toxicology results from the Greene County Coroner, which stated this week they still need the autopsy report from the Montgomery County Coroner.
Village Manager Patti Bates and YSPD Chief Brian Carlson have declined to be interviewed by the News, citing the ongoing nature of the disciplinary process, but have clarified some information with the News via email.
Clark County report
Village Manager Bates officially launched an internal investigation into Meister on Dec. 14, and contacted Clark County Deputy Jeff Meyer to conduct an outside review. After that review was completed in early January, Bates wrote a letter to Meister on Jan. 9 telling him the Village was moving ahead with the disciplinary process.
Clark County Detective Brian Melchi and Deputy Amanda Mitchell were tasked with investigating the incident, and did so by reviewing video of the station, several 911 calls and by conducting interviews with Bates and officers Meister and Paul Raffoul (the officer on duty) and Dispatcher Ruth Peterson.
Melchi and Mitchell concluded in their report that by not responding to the scene to assist, Meister violated the YSPD policy manual’s Code of Ethics section related to an officer’s duty to “safeguard lives and property.” They also concluded that Meister violated policies requiring officers to not disclose confidential information because Meister told his wife about the incident when he arrived home.
Finally, Melchi and Mitchell wrote, in reference to Meister’s statements that he needed overtime approval from a supervisor, that such approval, “should be the last thing on someone’s mind at the time of a serious call such as this.”
The report concludes: “The fact that Officer Meister did not even respond to assist in life saving efforts or helping a fellow officer with not only scene control but scene safety and was quick to point out in his interview about overtime needing approval causes great concern.
“There was a victim that needed help and an officer trying to control a scene by himself and Officer Meister was less than a minute away and chose to go home instead of helping.”
In her letter to Meister, Bates echoed several of the report’s conclusions and wrote that Meister is alleged to have violated three policies: YSPD policy, Guidelines for Village Policing and YS Personnel policy.
Although Bates did not address the issue of disclosing confidential information in her letter to Meister, she wrote in an email to the News this week that, “the Village is considering whether it is a violation and it will likely be addressed in the pre-disciplinary hearing.”
In a previous interview with the News, Meister categorized the safety-oriented policies the Village is alleging him to have violated as “ambiguous.” Meanwhile, overtime policies requiring a supervisor’s approval, he said, are clear.
“I would be violating numerous policies if I were to take independent action when I’m not on duty,” Meister said.
Overtime policies are spelled out the Village of Yellow Springs Personnel Policy Manual in a section on “Overtime Compensation” as well as a section on “Timekeeping,” which states:
“Overtime work must always be approved by the supervisor before it is performed. For police officers, overtime may be performed in cases where it is necessary to complete an arrest or paperwork needed immediately for the prosecutor or court.”
A separate section addresses “Off-duty law enforcement actions,” cautioning officers from getting involved when they are off duty, stating, “Officers generally should not initiate law enforcement action while off-duty.” Then, under the subsection “Decision to Intervene,” it states “There is no legal requirement for off-duty officers to take law enforcement action.”
Finally, under the subsection “Reporting,” the policy states, “Any officer, prior to taking any off-duty enforcement action, shall notify and receive approval of a supervisor.”
Meister’s concern about possibly being punished for violating overtime policies was central to his decision-making in the night in question, he said.
“I was not going to violate policy to go [on the call],” he said. “Even though it was a serious, horrible event, if I had injected myself into it, I would have been violating multiple policies.”
In lieu of clear policy violations, Meister said he believes he is being “railroaded,” by the current investigation. In addition, Meister said he has not been treated fairly by YSPD leadership, but instead has been singled out when others have not.
“It’s very frustrating because I get the support from my community all the time,” he said. “But I don’t get the support from my administration. Especially when I see other officers get ‘attaboys’ and pats on the back.”
According to Police Chief Brian Carlson, Meister is one of five YSPD officers to have been the subject of an internal investigation into their professional behavior since 2014.
Meister has been investigated more than any other officer in that time period, with the Village investigating Meister in 2014, 2015, 2018 and 2019.
Other officers to be investigated during that time period were RJ Hawley (2017–18), Dennis Nipper (2016), John Whittemore (2016) and Naomi Watson (previously Naomi Penrod, in 2014), according to information provided by Carlson.
In 2018 Meister told the News that, compared to other recent investigations into the actions of local officers, he believes his transgressions are relatively minor. In regards to last year’s investigations, which covered four incidents, Meister’s lawyer characterized them as cases in which Meister was “too lenient.”
Meister added that the fact that he is currently on a six-month performance improvement plan stemming from his last discipline in October 2018 also played a role in his decision to not go on the call.
“I have no doubt I would have been disciplined no matter what I did,” he said. “I followed policy as close as I could. I’m trying to be very careful about what I do.”
In addition, Meister contends that he has not received the training under Chief Carlson that was agreed to in a memorandum of understanding between Carlson and Meister following the prior discipline, which included a demotion. In that document, the two parties agreed to meet once per month to discuss Meister’s progress on the agreement’s objectives, and to meet at the three-month mark for a review.
In response to a question from the News on whether that training took place, Carlson wrote in an email: “We did start the mediation sessions with a private mediator, which were going to be my avenue of mentoring Dave, over time.
“Unfortunately, shortly thereafter, Dave had to attend to personal family matters and the mediation sessions were interrupted. We are now beginning the process of reinstituting the sessions.”
A timeline of events
The Clark County report details the sequence of events in the night in question. In addition, 911 calls and the Greene County Central dispatch log clarify what information the officers knew when.
According to the Clark County report, Meister worked his regular shift from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m., ultimately signing out at 10:15 p.m. after taking a late call and finishing up paperwork.
Officer Raffoul was in the station on duty, while Meister was in the station getting ready to leave, when the first calls came in about the shooting at 10:27 p.m.
Nine calls came in rapid succession and were received by both YSPD dispatch and Greene County Central dispatch in Xenia, which then relayed the information to YSPD in close to real time.
According to a Greene County dispatch log, “gun shots” was the first report, at 10:27 p.m., followed by “thinks someone was shot” at 10:28 p.m. At 10:30 p.m., a caller reported that the sounds may possibly have been the lighting of fireworks.
Concurrently, a woman who lives at the scene spoke with a Xenia dispatcher from 10:28 to 10:31 p.m. and provided critical details that a man was shot, and that she thinks he shot himself. The dispatcher categorized the call as “shooting” at 10:28 p.m.
At close to 10:29 p.m., the same 911 caller identified the victim as Kenneth Livingston. The woman also provided information about the location of the victim and the gun and where he appeared to have been shot, according to Greene County dispatch logs.
In the midst of this call, at 10:28 p.m., Officer Raffoul left YSPD to respond to the call, according to the Clark County report. Miami Township Fire and Rescue was dispatched at the same time and was reported “staged” at 10:29 p.m., according to the Greene County dispatch log.
At 10:32 p.m., the Clark County report states that Officer Meister left the YS dispatch area, but it doesn’t specify when he left the station. It adds that before Meister left, he is seen on the video “listening to radio traffic on his portable and looking at his phone.”
According to the Greene County dispatch log, Miami Township Fire and Rescue medics were cleared to enter the scene at 10:33 p.m. According to its records, Miami Township Fire Rescue Chief Colin Altman said his squad arrived at the scene at 10:35 p.m. after waiting for several minutes for an officer to secure the scene and the weapon. MTFR then reached the victim at 10:36 p.m. and pronounced him dead within the minute.
Police Chief Carlson has confirmed to the News that when officers and medics arrived on the scene, the victim was “unresponsive.”
Three Greene County deputies were on the scene that night, arriving at 10:41 p.m., 10:42 p.m. and 10:55 p.m., according to the Greene County dispatch log. Another officer from an unknown jurisdiction arrived on the scene earlier, at 10:34 p.m. That officer, and one of the deputies were reported to be en route at 10:30 p.m., according to Greene County dispatch logs.
Then, for almost 10 minutes, starting at 10:39 p.m., what was later reported to be erroneous information was shared with area police agencies. A witness told Raffoul at the scene that a male in a bulletproof vest had supposedly entered the scene, fired a weapon, dropped the weapon and left in a black Volvo northbound on Walnut Street.
Area police were notified of the possible suspect, but informed that the information was false over a two-minute period starting at 10:46 p.m.
According to his interview with Clark County investigators, Meister said he knew that an MTFR squad and Greene County deputies had been dispatched to the scene, which is confirmed by dispatch logs.
The final piece of information that Meister said let him know it was appropriate to go home was when the victim was reported to be deceased, which occurred at 10:36 p.m., according to MTFR records and Greene County dispatch logs.
“[MTFR] arrived on the scene, and they called the time of death. That’s when I thought, it’s safe for me to go,” Meister said.
Meister also said he listened to radio traffic on his way home, and said he believes he didn’t get home until close to 11 p.m. Meister also recalled hearing the traffic reporting the false information about a shooter, which he said was quickly determined not be true, even though it took a few minutes for every agency to be notified.
“It took a little while for the radio traffic to come in and let the other agencies know that that was false information,” Meister added.
Before he left the station, Meister said, “it sounded like things were contained.”
The Clark County report comes to a different conclusion about Meister’s knowledge and the potential impact of his actions.
“By not responding to the scene to assist, not knowing if there was someone around with an AR15, this clearly was not serving the community and safeguarding lives,” it states.
Other issues in the report
The Clark County report details a new alleged policy violation not previously made public: Meister disclosing confidential information to his wife.
Meister admits to telling his wife about the incident and that the victim had died, according to the Clark County report. She then went over to the home of a family member of the victim, which is nearby.
According to 911 calls reviewed by the Clark County investigators, Meister’s wife, who was with a family member of the victim at the time, called into YSPD dispatch to inquire about whether the death could be verified. Meister, who was also with the victim’s family member for a time, then called in to ask when official notification of the death might take place. Finally, Meister’s wife called in a second and third time.
Notification was given to the victim’s family at 12:20 a.m. on Dec. 14, the dispatcher logs confirm.
In addition to violating policy related to interfering with an active investigation by sharing confidential information, the Clark County report notes that the calls “tied up the phone line with the dispatcher and caused what would be interference in her performing her work duties trying to call others and give information to the officer on the scene.”
That disclosure was a violation of the YSPD Policy Manual section on “interfering with an investigation” as well as the YSPD code of ethics, which states, “Whatever I see or hear of a confidential nature or that is confided in me in my official capacity will be kept ever secret unless revelation is necessary in the performance of my duty,” the Clark County report notes.
In addressing his and his wife’s visit to the family of the victim, Meister said that the family member had already been informed of the death and that he did not disclose any additional information.
Meister called into dispatch, he said, to “get an official notification” of the death, which he believes would have been helpful to the family member at the time.
“I did that with compassion for a community member who is going through the worst time,” Meister said. “That was for free.”
The Clark County report also points out conflicting accounts of a statement Meister claims to have made to Dispatcher Peterson in which he stated, “he was available to come out if necessary,” which he said Peterson then “acknowledged.”
However, when investigators talked to Peterson again, they reported that she stated, “he did not say that because if he had said that, she would have told him to get to the scene to assist.”
The Clark County report concludes that it was Meister who was not telling the truth, stating Meister was “not truthful in saying that he offered to come out if necessary to the dispatcher because after speaking to her, she was confident that her 14 years of experience would have told her that she would have told him to go to the scene if he offered.”
Looking at the Clark County report as a whole, Meister finds many leading questions and much “Monday morning quarterbacking,” he said.
“I was never asked to go or told to go and it was not my call to take,” he said. “No, I didn’t offer [to go.] But I was not asked.”
The documents referenced in this report will be available at ysnews.com.