GRAFTON — Video from Saturday’s arrest of Mayor Megan Flanigan on drunken driving charges is not being made public.
Lt. Donald Barker of the Lorain County Sheriff’s Office said Monday he was preparing to release the police cruiser camera video to The Chronicle-Telegram but was told not to by Toni Morgan, North Ridgeville’s assistant law director and prosecutor. Morgan has been named a special prosecutor after Grafton Prosecutor Matt Mishak removed himself from the case. Prosecutors frequently remove themselves from cases involving public officials they interact with to avoid the appearance of a conflict of interest.
Morgan cited Steckman v. Jackson, a 1994 Ohio Supreme Court case, for not releasing the video. In the decision, the justices ruled defendants could not use public records laws to obtain information on their cases after the discovery process because it was delaying prosecutions.
However, cruiser videos of drunken-driving suspects — including former Ohio Supreme Court Justice Alice Robie Resnick in 2005 — are frequently released by police.
“They are, but they don’t have to be,” Morgan said.
Around 3:10 a.m. Saturday, Flanigan is accused of hitting a fire hydrant with her Chevrolet sport utility vehicle at the intersection of Fox Run and Hunting Hollow near Flanigan’s home in the 1100 block of Fox Run. Flanigan, charged with drunken driving, failure to control and leaving the scene of an accident, denied drinking.
However, police said she smelled of alcohol and a deputy repeatedly had to catch her to keep her from falling during a failed field sobriety test. Police said she said she had a sprained ankle.
Flanigan didn’t return calls Sunday and Monday.
Morgan said she never permits arrest videos to be released before cases are completed and wasn’t showing Flanigan favoritism. However, Tim Smith, a Freedom of Information and Ohio Sunshine Law expert, disagreed.
“What this looks like is more of an attempt to prevent any additional embarrassment for the mayor without any foundation in the statute,” said Smith, a Kent State University professor emeritus and former Akron Beacon Journal managing editor. “That’s a major problem with this. Everybody’s not treated equally.”
Smith said the Steckman decision was meant to prevent delaying tactics by criminal suspects, not prevent the public from seeing videos of suspected drunken drivers.
“This is a routine piece of information that is uniformly released by police agencies,” he said. “There’s no top secret investigative technique being used here. Everybody knows cruisers have video machines for just this purpose.”
Reporter Brad Dicken contributed to this story.