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Hearing officer conclusion—Meister violated no policies

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In a decision released Wednesday, Feb. 20, pre-disciplinary hearing officer Jeffrey Hazlett concluded that Yellow Springs Police Officer Dave Meister did not violate any police department policies by not responding to a shooting in the village in early December. 

“We’re happy we had due process,” Dayton attorney Dave Duwel, who represents Meister, said Wednesday afternoon. “We are happy the hearing officer looked at Dave’s conduct that day and said he didn’t violate any policies.”

In response to the report, the Village issued a press release stating that “the finding he did not violate policy was based, not upon the actual actions of Officer Meister, but upon the finding that Village policies were not specific enough to be absolutely clear in guiding Officer Meister’s actions in this case.”

Village leaders will begin work soon on clarifying policies, the statement says.

Village Manager Patti Bates discussed that release by phone on Wednesday, but declined to comment further on the report.

“It doesn’t necessarily say his actions were acceptable, it said he did not violate policy,” Bates said. 

The hearing officer’s report is not the final say on potential discipline for Meister, however. Manager Bates will make the decision regarding discipline, including whether Meister will be fired, by the end of this week or beginning of next week, she said this week.

“I don’t want to continue to drag this out, for everyone’s benefit,” Bates said. 

Bates added that Council may want to offer their comments ahead of her decision. An executive session has, in fact, been added for Monday, Feb. 25, to discuss the discipline of a public employee, according to the Village this week. No public meeting will take place that evening. 

An attorney and mediator with the Montgomery County Common Pleas Court, Hazlett was someone he and Village Solicitor Chris Conard both know and had agreed to as the hearing officer, Duwel said Wednesday. 

“We knew he would be thorough and analytical and fair,” Duwel said.

The Village has charged that Meister had violated four policies on the night of Dec. 13, 2018, when villager Ken Livingston apparently shot himself in an event ruled accidental by the Greene County Coroner.

First, the Village had charged Meister with neglect of duty in not responding to the call, even though he had recently gone off duty. Because the officer on duty,  Officer Raffoul, the newest officer in the department, has little patrol experience, Meister should have gone on the call to assist, the Village asserted.

However, according to Hazlett, Village procedure is that one officer at a time goes on a call, and there are no directions saying that two should go under special conditions. Hazlett also cited evidence that Meister was listening closely to radio reports from Raffoul, and determined that the officer had the situation well under control. He was also aware that other officers would be on the scene soon.

Also, Hazlett stated, there “was no evidence presented at the hearing that Officer Raffoul, at any time in responding to the shooting … ever requested the assistance of any other officer other than those who were automatically dispatched to the scene by the nature of the call.”

In not responding, Meister had also emphasized his caution in violating department policy that states off-duty officers should not respond to a call without approval from a supervisor. In the hearing report, Hazlett noted that local officers  had recently been encouraged by Sergeant Josh Knapp to reduce overtime.

Meister had stated he was especially cautious since he was just last fall put on a six-month performance improvement plan, and demoted from corporal to patrol officer following several instances when he was found to have violated departmental policy during traffic stops. 

In his report, Hazlett noted that the apparently strained relationship between Meister and Chief Brian Carlson contributed to the difficulty of the situation.

During the hearing, he stated “I find that interactions between Chief Carlson and Officer Meister relative to prior discipline handed down to Officer Meister played a role in the events leading to this hearing. In the hearing, it was apparent to me that Chief Carlson has reservations about Officer Meister’s judgement and decision-making, and he viewed the actions of Officer Meister on December 13, 2018, both through the lens of those reservations, and the lens of what would other officers have done in the same situation. Officer Meister, on the other hand, had felt he was under a microscope where any misstep, no matter how small, could result in him losing his job. Rules and regulations had to be followed. “I’s had to be dotted, T’s had to be crossed.”

Hazlett also found Meister not guilty of the second charge, dishonesty, in the accusation that Meister was untruthful regarding his saying he had told Dispatcher Ruth Peterson that he would be available to come to the scene, if needed. Rather, according to Hazlett, the dispatcher’s office was chaotic at the time, with many conflicting calls being received, and while Peterson said she hadn’t heard Meister make the offer, she didn’t say he had not made it.

“During the hearing, I found all witnesses to be credible and forthright in their testimony,” Hazlett wrote. “There were differences of opinions and the witnesses all remembered some things differently than others. However, I found no reliable evidence that leads me to find that Officer Meister was untruthful.”

Hazlett also did not find evidence to support the third and fourth charges, that  Meister and his wife, Zo, had interfered with the investigation, or that Meister had  violated confidentiality by telling his wife, when he returned home, that Livingston had died.

Many people were already aware of the death, and had told Livingston’s wife, by the time that Meister told his wife, according to the report, so that confidentiality was a moot issue.

“Yellow Springs is a small community,” the report states. “While the grapevine may not be as fast as a radio, in Yellow Springs, the difference in speed between the two is minimal.”

In his response, Attorney Duwel emphasized his desire that the Village and Meister mend fences and move ahead.

“We don’t want to cause more division,” he said. “We want to work toward moving forward.”

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