Citizens review police actions
- Published: November 28, 2019
An ad hoc citizen committee is reviewing a disciplinary matter involving two officers of the Yellow Springs Police Department.
The possible discipline stems from the actions of Cpl. Mark Charles and Officer David Meister when they responded to a domestic violence call in the village on Aug. 28.
The use of a citizen committee is a departure from the discipline process outlined in the Village’s personnel policy. Village leaders have called the committee a pilot.
The committee first met on Nov. 2 and was not announced publicly until Nov. 4, when Council briefly discussed the group and its role in response to inquiries from the News.
“I just wanted to bring it to your attention that this happened and that this is happening,” Council member Lisa Kreeger said at the meeting. “It happened quickly.”
In a later interview, Kreeger said the new process is an attempt to bring more public participation into police disciplines and that the current process is a “case study.”
“We thought of it as a way to have community members more engaged in these complicated situations,” she said.
Kreeger and the three citizens make up the committee, which will review the facts in the case and present its findings to Village Manager Josué Salmerón. Salmerón will then decide on any disciplinary action to be taken.
The names of the three citizen participants have not yet been released.
The committee has met twice this month to review documents and hear testimony from the two officers, along with Sgt. Naomi Watson, the supervisor who completed the initial discipline review in the case. The committee has yet to submit a report.
New process initiated
After Watson’s initial report documenting possible policy violations, YSPD Chief Brian Carlson reviewed the matter and referred it to Salmerón. In communication with Village Council members and Village Solicitor Chris Conard, Salmerón then developed the citizen review committee to advise him. Conard shared with Village leaders that other municipalities have used community advisory groups in a similar way, according to Kreeger.
On Oct. 1, both officers signed documents agreeing to the voluntary process. They did not waive their rights to the discipline procedure outlined in the Village’s employee handbook, according to Village documents.
The existing process involves progressive discipline, which starts with a verbal warning and written reprimand, both of which may be issued by a supervisor. The next two steps are a suspension or demotion and a termination, which may only be completed by the Village manager. The process starts over after 24 months.
When it comes to those more serious disciplines, the employee has a right to a “pre-disciplinary conference,” according to the Village’s personnel manual. The purpose of that conference is “to give the employee an opportunity to offer an explanation of the alleged misconduct.”
Under the new process, those steps, including the pre-disciplinary conference, may still be taken. What’s different is that instead of the Village manager relying on either an internal investigation by a YSPD supervisor, or an external investigation, such as one completed by another law enforcement agency, he is relying on citizen input.
“What I’m expecting from the committee are the facts,” Salmerón explained in an interview. “There is a lack of clarity on who did what. When it is less clear it requires an investigation, which can be done internally or outside. This is another option.”
Kreeger, who is also pushing for a standing Citizen Review Board to take citizen complaints against officers, said she was supportive of testing out a new approach.
“I’d like to keep trying new things, to try to improve the trust that we have between the community and the police department,” Kreeger said.
Carlson also said that he was open to the new process.
“We’re all hoping for a positive solution for dealing with difficult internal situations,” he said.
According to Salmerón, the three citizen participants were selected by Salmerón, Kreeger and Village Solicitor Chris Conard.
“It was a collaborative effort identifying qualified, respectable individuals with expertise who would be sensitive to the values of the village and the protection of employees,” Salmerón said.
In recent weeks, Village leaders have declined to release the names of the citizen participants of the committee. Salmerón cited possible backlash against the participants or “reputational harm” as reasons for keeping their identities confidential. Kreeger stated that she believed that the names would be released once the report was completed.
Kreeger added the group was composed of “very active community members who bring a variety of opinions.” Salmerón said that the three citizens are all older and reflect the “demographics of the village.”
“The individuals who are reviewing the facts are representatives of the community and the community’s values,” he said.
In response to questions from the News, Salmerón said that none of the participants has a “known negative bias” against the officers in question, while at least one of the participants knows one of the officers well and may have a positive view of them.
Also sitting in on the meetings, but not participating, are Conard and Village HR coordinator Ruthe Ann Lillich.
Incident in question
Around 1:46 a.m. on Wednesday, Aug. 28, Yellow Springs dispatch received a 911 call from a woman in the village who said she was being attacked and needed to hide. The call was then disconnected.
Meister and Charles were dispatched to the scene and, according to the incident report submitted by Meister, the primary officer on the call, found “two people were involved in a domestic dispute that became physical.”
The officers spoke with both parties and another witness and took photographs of physical injuries on both individuals. A friend came to pick up the suspected offender, while the suspected victim went to a nearby friend’s house. No one was arrested. And during the call, another domestic violence in progress call came in.
Contrary to policy, the offender was neither arrested, nor the victim pointed toward available resources. YSPD leadership became aware of a possible policy violation the following day when the Greene County Sheriff’s Office inquired about the lack of documentation of the call in the countywide data sharing program, according to Chief Carlson. That morning, Charles, the supervising officer on the call, had also informed leadership of his possible error in how the call was handled, Carlson added.
Sgt. Watson reviewed the incident and completed a Disciplinary Action Record for Charles on Sept. 16, noting the type of violation as a “Violation of Village Policy/Procedure.”
Watson wrote, concerning Charles’ oversight of Meister’s actions, “… at the conclusion of this call, Officer Meister did not make an arrest, he did not file any charges, he did not offer any medical care, nor did he offer any victim assistance.”
Watson also raised concerns about both officers’ actions in light of the suspected offender’s pending case at Fairborn Municipal Court, where he faces charges of domestic violence, assault and aggravated menacing.
“You immediately agreed that the call should have been handled differently, with charges along with a lock-up being the proper resolution,” Watson wrote of Charles in the document, currently part of Charles’ personnel file.
Carlson added that, according to YSPD policies, the officers should have informed the victim of her right to pursue a temporary restraining order and given her a handout, “Ohio Crime Victim Rights.” Additional steps in the policy manual state that the officers should alert the victim to available victim advocates, shelters and community resources. Ohio Revised Code further sets out various standards for arrest during a domestic violence incident.
According to the YSPD’s policy manual, “calls of reported, threatened, imminent or ongoing domestic violence and the violation of any court order are of extreme importance and should be considered among the highest response priorities.”
Watson suggested an oral warning for Charles, with additional consequences should the incident occur again.
No Disciplinary Action Record was included in Meister’s personnel file. In response to a question from the News about that record, a Village representative said it is not yet available because it is still in progress.
Following YSPD leadership’s involvement in the case, the suspect, who lives in the village, was eventually charged with two offenses from the incident — domestic violence and assault, both first degree misdemeanors.
Charles, who lives in Dayton, joined the local force in 2014 and was promoted to corporal in late 2018. According to a review of his personnel file, he has no previous disciplines. However, his file contains three citizen complaints about his actions as an officer, along with several notes praising his police work.
Meister, who lives in Yellow Springs, started at the YSPD in 2010 and is now the second longest-serving full-time officer on the local force.
Meister was last disciplined in late 2018, after an internal investigation concluded he violated department policy in two incidents by not ensuring public safety. In that case, he was demoted from the position of corporal. Meister was also investigated earlier this year for not accompanying an officer on a call soon after going off duty, but was found to not have violated department policy in that case. His file also contains several notes from citizens commending his police work.