LORAIN — An investigation into a leak about misconduct allegations against two Lorain police officers two years ago did not identify the source of the information, according to a report released Thursday.
Lorain Police Chief Cel Rivera, who conducted the investigation, said without the power to issue subpoenas or obtain search warrants for electronic records such as emails, finding the leak proved difficult.
“It was really impossible for us to do that,” he said.
That left Rivera only with the option of interviewing those who knew about the information, including senior members of the Police Department who handled internal investigations. Those three officers all denied being the source of the leak over the course of multiple interviews, Rivera wrote.
The leak was the cause of a long-running dispute between the city administration and the Fraternal Order of Police lodge in Lorain.
The police union filed a grievance in 2012 arguing that the release of the information on the investigations into the two officers breached its contract with the city. The contract requires that internal investigations be conducted in a “private and business-like manner.”
The union had argued, and an arbitrator agreed, that the release of the information of the investigations into officers Jeff Jackson and Ralph Gonzalez was a violation of the union contract.
Rivera wrote that the language in the contract appeared to conflict with Ohio public records laws and probably should be changed. He also said that by the time the information became public knowledge, the investigations already were completed.
“It is rather astonishing, in this age of social media, that the information was not ‘leaked’ earlier,” Rivera wrote.
Arbitrator Nels Nelson concluded that the two officers were subject to public scorn and possibly harsher punishments when the allegations against them became public, and ordered the city to find the source of the leak.
Gonzalez was set to be punished after a gun he reported destroyed in a fire was recovered during a felony warrant arrest, but retired before a 60-day suspension recommended by Rivera could be imposed.
Jackson, who was accused of manipulating his work hours, was given a 14-day suspension and demoted from sergeant to patrolman.
Although Rivera and other city officials had long expressed concern that they lacked the tools to properly identify the leak, the union pressed for the investigation to go forward, even taking the case to court.
Attorneys for the union had asked Lorain County Common Pleas Court Judge Raymond Ewers to hold the city in contempt of court last month for failing to complete the investigation, but that request was dropped this week after the report was forwarded to the union, Lorain Law Director Pat Riley said.
Officer Kyle Gelenius, the police union president, said in a statement Thursday that the union is reviewing Rivera’s report
before deciding what to do next.
“After an initial review of the report, we do not necessarily agree, nor do we accept some of the conclusions made in the report,” Gelenius wrote. “The FOP will continue to fight to protect our member’s collective bargaining rights that require a fair, equitable and private disciplinary process. The FOP will not idly stand by while matters under investigation are leaked to sources outside the investigating and appointing authorities for personal or political gain.”
Police and city officials had long focused their efforts to find the leak on Lorain City Councilman Dennis Flores, D-2nd Ward, who spoke to the media before the allegations became public in August 2012. Those conversations, along with text messages, he sent to Lorain Mayor Chase Ritenauer led officials to see Flores as a possible link to the leak.
Flores seemed to know about the allegations against Gonzalez and Jackson and told the media and Ritenauer that he had
learned about it from emails and phone calls from constituents. But Rivera wrote that during an arbitration hearing, Flores admitted that he had learned the information from an online commenter.
Rivera speculated in his report that the commenter, whom no effort was made to identify, might be a disgruntled former
Lorain police officer. He also wrote that while the union wanted Flores investigated for perjury, it would have been a difficult allegation to prove and no such investigation was ever launched.
Gelenius wrote the union found the chief’s findings about Flores’ honesty “astonishing.”
“Councilman Flores apparently resorted to gossip, conjecture and speculation,” he wrote.
The police union filed a public records request seeking access to Flores private electronic communications based on the argument that any emails dealing with public business should be released. But Flores, on the advice of his attorney, Mike Duff, refused to grant access.
In one text message to Ritenauer, Flores wrote that “You’ve got a leak in the LPD the size of a semi,” but later said that he
didn’t know if that was true and didn’t know the identity of the leaker.
In his report Rivera was highly critical of the arbitrator’s findings, which he wrote was “based on conclusions that had no
merit or evidence to support them.” There was never any proof that anyone in the upper echelons of the Police Department or the city government was responsible for the leaks, the chief wrote.
Nelson also ignored that “Jackson discussed the matter with many of his colleagues, that many officers and staff were
interviewed relative to the allegations and therefore knew the facts, that Sergeant Jackson’s long absence was the subject of gossip and much discussion within the Police Department,” Rivera wrote.
Flores said Thursday he hadn’t seen the report, but never felt that a crime had been committed.
“There may have been a violation of some FOP rules,” he said. “I don’t think there were any laws