August 21, 2014

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Lawyer says cops shouldn’t investigate Lorain councilman

LORAIN — City Councilman Dennis Flores’ lawyer said Tuesday that Lorain police have a conflict of interest and shouldn’t conduct an investigation that the city’s police union has requested into whether his client lied during an arbitration hearing.

Flores

“That’s like the fox guarding the henhouse,” attorney Mike Duff said.

Fraternal Order of Police President Kyle Gelenius sent a letter Monday to police Capt. Steve Schmittle demanding an investigation into whether Flores lied about how he learned details about the investigations of Officers Ralph Gonzalez and Jeff Jackson last year. Flores also claimed that he “did not recall” emails and phone calls he received about the investigations, the letter said.

Flores, Gelenius wrote, was attempting to conceal documents and other information that could be used as evidence in the arbitration, which deals with a grievance the police union has filed over how details of the investigations became public and were reported in the media.

Gelenius declined additional comment Tuesday.

Duff said he has been told that a detective has been assigned to the Flores matter and has requested a meeting with his client.

The city has sent a subpoena to Flores demanding the names of his phone and email service providers and Geoffrey Smith, the city’s human resources/risk management director, has said police intend to issue additional subpoenas that will allow them to review Flores’ emails, text messages and phone records.

Duff said Flores didn’t lie under oath. He also accused the police of pursuing a vendetta against a critic.

“I think this is all a vindictive move by the FOP,” he said.

Duff said last week that he believes Police Chief Cel Rivera, who has ordered an investigation into leaks within the Lorain Police Department, wants access to Flores’ emails as part of an effort to create a “hit list” of those who have complained about the city’s police officers.

Smith has said Rivera requested that subpoenas be issued for Flores’ email and phone records, something Duff has said he intends to fight.

City officials contend that even without the subpoenas, Flores’ emails and phone records are public record if they deal with city business.

Duff said he also is considering asking the Lorain Law Department to remove itself from Flores’ pending DUI case. The 2nd Ward councilman has pleaded not guilty to the charge.

Lorain Law Director Pat Riley said he hasn’t been involved in the grievance over the release of information about the Gonzalez and Jackson investigations and hasn’t seen Gelenius’ letter.

But he acknowledged that Duff had raised questions about the involvement of the Police Department in an investigation of Flores and said he will review the matter.

Gonzalez retired in September while being investigated after a city-issued pistol assigned to him turned up during a felony warrant arrest in May. He had reported the gun destroyed in a 2011 house fire. A report on that investigation said that two other guns in Gonzelez’s possession are believed to be on the black market.

Jackson remains under investigation for scheduling and attendance issues.

The police union contends that the details of those investigations should have remained confidential under a clause in the union contract that calls for disciplinary issues to be conducted in “a private and businesslike manner.”

Rivera agreed that the information about the investigations shouldn’t have been made public and ordered the internal investigation to discover the source of the leak.

Lorain resident Denise Caruloff said Tuesday that a legal defense fund for Flores has been set up and donations can be made at any FirstMerit Bank location.

She said although she didn’t set up the account, she supports Flores and called the scrutiny he now finds himself under “a malicious, vicious attack.”

Contact Brad Dicken at 329-7147 or bdicken@chroniclet.com.