Here are the 391 police officers who’ve been decertified by the state of Ohio

Outside of buckshot Google searches and public records requests, there is no easy way to find out about the bad cops in your state—the police officers who’ve broken the public’s trust and gotten themselves banned from the force. Who are they? What did they do?

What guardrails are in place to prevent those men and women from serving as police officers?

This is where the oft-maligned work of journalists comes into play.

USA Today network reporters compiled a list of more than 30,000 police officers who’ve been decertified in the 44 U.S. states that have such a process on the books. This searchable record is now the most comprehensive nationwide database of police officer decertification.

See the Ohio list here.

Westword—in Denver, Colo.—published a similar overview of the USA Today list in Colorado. I’d like to tip my hat to writer Michael Roberts and replicate the spotlight here in Ohio.

spenser
In Ohio, 391 police officers have been dercertified from working in law enforcement. Credit: spenser/unsplash.

Decertification is a public process that revokes the licenses of officers who have “engaged in serious misconduct,” according to the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP). The form of that misconduct often ends up as criminal conviction, but it varies from state to state. USA Today chronicles 391 police officers in Ohio who’ve been decertified. Their offenses range from theft and carrying a concealed weapon to drug trafficking and rape.

The list includes at least 14 Cleveland Police Department officers. (Some of the listed officers’ names do not include a reference to their “last appointing agency.”) Among those, most Cleveland residents will recognize some names—like Gregory Jones, who was convicted of rape and kidnapping in 2014. He was sentenced to nine years in prison.

And there’s Robert Bonness, convicted of attempted rape and possession of child pornography. He was sentenced to more than 50 years in prison and decertified by the state of Ohio in 2011.

Zvonko Sarlog was sentenced to 10 years in prison—in 2008—for his central role in a Northeast Ohio drug trafficking ring. Sarlog was later decertified in 2017.

Anthony Tuleta is on the list, too. He was convicted of six counts of drug possession and one count of theft; the 8th District Court of Appeals later overturned the ruling and insisted that Tuleta never should have been prosecuted in the first place. In March 2014, he was reinstated as a member of the Cleveland Police Department.

Also on the list, readers will find officers who until recently held positions at the Cuyahoga County Sheriff’s Office, the Cuyahoga Community College Police Department, the Cleveland Metropolitan Housing Authority Police Department and a smattering of Northeast Ohio suburban police departments.

But the through-line for the Ohio officers on this list is a criminal conviction. Nothing less.

Even a cursory understanding of current events will lend the assumption that there’s more rot in Ohio law enforcement than the savage crimes listed here. Prosecutions of police officers aren’t often successful, if they’re pursued at all.

The USA Today list is a step toward something more accessible, toward a real sense of scale. (The news organization announced that it has also compiled a list of 85,000 officers who’ve been investigated for misconduct more broadly, which will be published in the future.) The 30,000-some officers documented by the decertification list is but a glimpse into what a national data set might look like—and about half of that total is drawn from North Carolina, Florida and Georgia, anyway. Different state statutes circumscribe decertification differently. There is no national standard, which is why there was nothing like this database until the USA Today group came along and spent time to publish one.

So, what does it mean?

According to the Ohio Revised Code, any defendant who pleads guilty to a felony and who happens to be a police officer is fired and decertified. (The officer must be warned in court and given a chance to reconsider his or her plea.)

“You are hereby advised that conviction of the felony offense to which you are pleading guilty will result in the termination of your employment as a peace officer and in your decertification as a peace officer pursuant to the laws of Ohio.”

If an officer is convicted of a felony at trial or is convicted of a misdemeanor, the court is obliged to send all documentation thereof to the officer’s employers. What happens then is up to the law enforcement agency in question.

That’s Ohio. Every other state is different. Six states don’t even have a decertification statute on the books.

The current attempt at a federally catalogued data set in the U.S. is entirely voluntary.

In May 2015, President Barack Obama’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing issued a call to the International Association of Directors of Law Enforcement Standards and Training “to expand its National Decertification Index to serve as the National Register of Decertified Officers with the goal of covering all agencies within the United States and its territories.”

The task force quoted Roger Goldman, a law professor emeritus with Saint Louis University, who said that a national register would effectively treat “police professionals the way states’ licensing laws treat other professionals. If anything, the need for such a system is even more important for law enforcement, as officers have the power to make arrests, perform searches, and use deadly force.”

Did President Donald Trump’s administration pick up the task and run with it?

No.

Former U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions went the opposite way with his departmental oversight, calling into question consent decrees held between the Department of Justice and law enforcement agencies around the country. After his forced resignation, successor William Barr has since been a bit busy.

In the midst of high-profile international criminal allegations and investigations in the U.S., the USA Today report is helpful in jerking the focus back to local anxieties.

To what standard are the peace officers in your neighborhood really held?

Timothy Loehmann, in one of the more visible examples, evaded formal charges in 2015 by a Cuyahoga County grand jury in the investigation into the shooting death of Tamir Rice. Loehmann was fired by Cleveland in 2017.

Before that, however, Loehmann had been formally reprimanded by previous higher-ups at the Independence Police Department. (Loehmann was infamously called “weepy” by his superiors, a cause for concern when the subject is handling a gun and tasked with public safety.) He’d been deemed unfit for duty, but only a public records request for Loehmann’s personnel file or a formal background check by another police department that was thinking about hiring him would have told you that at the time. The Cleveland Police Department did neither.

This remains a cautionary tale.

In October 2018, Loehmann withdrew his application to work as a part-time police officer in Bellaire, Ohio. “Hopefully, he will not be hired as a police officer by any other state,” Samaria Rice, Tamir’s mother, said at a news conference.

In March 2019, the Cleveland Police Patrolman’s Association filed an appeal to overturn the 2017 firing of Loehmann by the Cleveland Police Department.

Wherever he lands, Loehmann is still certified to work as a police officer in Ohio.

Two days before USA Today published its decertification list, the news organization ran an investigation into the criminal violations of David Cimperman, police chief of Amsterdam, Ohio, a small town of 500 between Steubenville and New Philadelphia. “In 2001,” the reporters write, “he was convicted of a felony for tampering with police radios so that he could make untraceable phone calls. Over the years, he crashed his cruiser five times and left a personnel file strewn with disciplinary violations.”

But Cimperman was never decertified. He was hired as a small-town Ohio police chief in 2015.

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The modern Cleveland man

A few years back, Brian Lombardi wrote a fine New York Times piece about how to be “a modern man.” It’s important to remind ourselves how men can still be positive role models in 2019.

Since I often get asked about how to be a good example for younger men here in Cleveland, I figured I’d share the list that I used to hand out to the summer interns each year.

“How to Be a Modern Man in Cleveland”

The modern Cleveland man does not fill out the menu at Barrio. He orders the special and makes sure to compliment the cooks.

Yes, the modern Cleveland man still subscribes to the Plain Dealer. But he only reads the Sunday paper.

The modern Cleveland man prefers to go 45 on the West Shoreway. He knows it’s important to set a good pace on the morning commute.

The modern Cleveland man knows his ward’s City Council representative—and his or her favorite donut shop.

The modern man in Cleveland attends every one of the orchestra’s performances at Blossom. He always asks the folks next to him on the lawn if they’d like some of the spinach pies he and his wife brought in from Aladdin’s.

The modern Cleveland man doesn’t bother with GetGo’s FuelPerks program. If gas is $2.95 and the tank’s empty, gas is $2.95.

You’ll find the modern Cleveland man in the Right Field District when the Tribe’s at home, but you won’t find him anywhere near the place on “dollar dog night.” Same goes for when they do the fireworks.

The modern Cleveland man grows his beard in the winter, and keeps his face clean-shaven between the home opener and the Browns’ bye week each year.

The modern Cleveland man takes the Red Line out to Hopkins when he travels for work. But does he take it downtown for St. Paddy’s Day? What, are you kidding?

When choosing the perfect location for date night, the modern Cleveland man does not consult his wife. He knows her favorite spot is Crop, and he’s had the reservation booked for three weeks already.

You won’t find any MANCAN wine in the modern Cleveland man’s fridge. He drinks pre-2017 pinot noirs on his back patio with the guys.

The modern Cleveland man plays catch with the neighborhood kids every now and then, but he’s careful not to bring up John Rocker in front of them.

The modern Cleveland man brings his own straw to local restaurants. And he’s always got extras if anyone around him needs one.

Decadent, depraved

You can learn more about the degenerative side of human nature from any two paragraphs in the Kentucky Derby Piece than in a full year of investigative reporting at Cuyahoga County’s shiny East 9th Street office. (Here’s a tip: It’s all degenerative. The plot moves in one direction.)

I read this classic Thompson yarn each year around this time. It’s a healing ritual.

“The clubhouse bars on Derby Day are a very special kind of scene. Along with the politicians, society belles and local captains of commerce, every half-mad dingbat who ever had any pretensions to anything at all within five hundred miles of Louisville will show up there to get strutting drunk and slap a lot of backs and generally make himself obvious.”

Read on, as published by Scanlan’s Monthly, vol. 1, no. 4, June 1970.

The many-tongued beast

Something I’m thinking about lately, a line from one of my favorite writers, Tom Robbins, whose work shoved me onto this path a long time ago…

“A writer’s first obligation is not to the many-bellied beast, but to the many-tongued beast. Not to society but to language. Everyone has a stake in the husbandry of society, but language is the writer’s special charge—and a grandiose animal it is, too! If it weren’t for language, there wouldn’t be society. Once writers have established their basic commitment to language and are taking the blue guitar-sized risk that that relationship demands, they are free to promote social betterment. But let me tell you this: Social action on a political, economic level is wee potatoes. Our great human adventure is the evolution of consciousness. We are in this life to enlarge the soul and light up the brain. How many writers of fiction do you think are committed to that?”

What does that mean to you? What does the state of our universal language—or even our local language—feel like today? Is everything alright?

Synecdoche

(I’m writing this if only to remind myself to write more about this topic: synecdoche as a crutch for journalists.)

Seth Godin ran a great podcast episode on this idea earlier this week. It’s something I’ve been thinking about, but I’m not sure I had the right framing in mind.

Synecdoche is “a figure of speech in which a part is made to represent the whole or vice versa, as in Cleveland won by six runs (meaning “Cleveland’s baseball team”).” You see this all the time in local news reporting—and don’t even get me started on the national desk, where ideas go to die.

The Plain Dealer ran a great example of this concept in the paper earlier this week. “Cleveland City Council: Silencing residents for 183 years.” It’s a good piece for us residents to consider. In the past six years, especially the five years I spent as a reporter at Scene, I’ve met and learned from so many engaged residents who know their way around not just this city, but the very economic and political governance of it. I’ve also met folks who just plain don’t know what to do about a perceived negligence on the part of City Council. What that negligence looks like is unique to each taxpayer, but it inevitably leads to the dead-end thought: Well, what am I supposed to do about it? Who do I talk to?

City Council public comment is not a clearinghouse for specific odds-and-ends concerns about the city. Rather, it’s both symbolic and actionable: It’s a gesture of good faith from elected representatives (limited, usually, by rules and time) and a focused platform for ideas. It’s a place where the real stakeholders of local government can truly express themselves, and it’s far more visceral than the voting booth.

Anyway. The Plain Dealer piece is good, and it’s something we should be talking about in this city. But there’s an indictment that’s not coming through, at least in my reading. “Cleveland City Council” isn’t silencing Cleveland residents; the 17 members of the elected body are willfully enacting this policy every time they gather in chambers. At 7 p.m. on Monday evenings at 601 Lakeside Ave., Joe Jones, Kevin Bishop, Kerry McCormack, Ken Johnson, Phyllis Cleveland, Blaine Griffin, Basheer Jones, Michael Polensek, Kevin Conwell, Anthony Hairston, Dona Brady, Anthony Brancatelli, Kevin Kelley (president), Jasmin Santana, Matt Zone, Brian Kazy and Marty Keane are very specifically silencing residents through inaction on this policy that’s been on the books “forever,” as the Plain Dealer‘s Andrea Simakis writes. Each week that they fail to lift the ban on public comment, those 17 men and women uphold the ban and ensure that Cleveland residents do not have a chance to speak publicly at City Council meetings.

It’s not council that’s the problem, because what is council? It’s the choices made by individuals. “City Council” as the monolith baddie does no one any good, from a public discourse standpoint or from a journalistic standpoint. 

Kelley was reportedly asked for comment; “he hasn’t responded,” according to Simakis.

Book No. 15 on the year: Kingsley Amis’ ‘Lucky Jim’

I’m halfway through Lucky Jim and loving it. Leaving the narrative arc aside for the moment, Amis is just a joy to read. And he’s a killer example for how to convey a humorous angle in writing. Even if the scenes themselves weren’t hilarious (and they are, universally), Amis’ way with words most certainly is.

Not that this next line is funny, but it’s worth sharing. I’ve found some neat parallels between Dixon’s movement through life and mine.

“Cautiously and contortedly he got hold of matches and cigarettes and lit one of each in succession. More than ever he felt secure: here he was, quite able to fulfill his role, and, as with other roles, the longer you played it the better chance you had of playing it again. Doing what you wanted to do was the only training, and the only preliminary, needed for doing more of what you wanted to do.”