Toledo City Council president Steven Steel says someone clubbed him in a parking lot near a downtown Toledo bar.
The Toledo Police Department says there is no evidence of an assault.
RELATED ARTICLE: Steel drank heavily in hour before incident (with video)
And there is no ongoing investigation.
Nor has Mr. Steel insisted on one.
Something is wrong here.
Mr. Steel was found unconscious just before 11:30 on the night of Feb. 9 in a parking lot at 624 Monroe St. He was bleeding from a head wound.
Earlier that same night he introduced Toledo Mayor Paula Hicks-Hudson before she delivered her annual State of the City address at One SeaGate downtown.
Mr. Steel, several councilmen, and other city officials, including Ms. Hicks-Hudson’s chief of staff, Mark Sobczak, went to Table Forty 4 after the speech.
Though some present have said they did not think Mr. Steel was drinking to excess, video from inside the bar, released by the Toledo Police Department, shows him downing three beers and two shots within a 20-minute period, then appearing to stumble around the bar and eventually toward the door.
It seems highly possible that Mr. Steel, under the influence, lost his footing and simply fell and hit his head in the parking lot. Mr. Steel says he doesn’t remember, but he told The Blade he “assumes” someone hit him from behind, resulting in eight stitches in the back of his head and an abrasion on the front of his head.
What is the basis of that assumption? There is no evidence of an altercation in the bar. And when the police and medical personnel arrived, they treated the incident as an injured-person case. No one, including Mr. Steel, gave them reason to think otherwise.
But then Mr. Steel’s assumption about an attack appeared in The Blade and the police saw it.
A detective was then assigned to the case, which was quickly closed because Mr. Steel said he had no memory of the incident and there was no evidence of an assault.
Significantly, Mr. Steel’s wallet and cell phone remained intact on his person.
Questions abound. If there was an assault, why aren’t council members and Ms. Hicks-Hudson’s administration outraged that the head of council was attacked outside a popular Toledo bar? Shouldn’t they, and Mr. Steel, insist on an investigation?
If there was not an assault — and, again, there is no evidence of one — what does it say about Mr. Steel that he blamed his injuries on an assailant?
That’s a tough one. Mr. Steel is human, like all of us, and none of us know how we would react under pressure or in shame.
But leaders — and Mr. Steel is supposed to be one of the city’s key leaders — have to be responsible and accountable for their mistakes.
It’s not a crime to drink too much. And it is not a crime to try to cover up your own folly. But it surely isn’t leadership. Leaders take responsibility. That’s what character is about.
And where was the leadership of other council members and city officials? If Mr. Steel was inebriated, why didn’t they drive him home or call him a cab? (From the tape, it appears that one person might have tried. He should have had help. There is a lesson here for us all.)
There are two more troubling aspects to this story:
One is the way that the saga reflects on safety in downtown Toledo. Either there is a lunatic clubbing customers outside a popular downtown bar or the city council president has been willing to perpetuate the myth that downtown Toledo is unsafe as part of a cover-up for his own bad judgment.
If the former is true, we need more cops downtown. But, generally, Toledo has one of the safest downtown areas in the state.
If the latter is true, it shows that Mr. Steel put himself above the reputation of the city and the good of the community.
Second, if Mr. Steel was headed for his car in the parking lot where he was found, that is chilling. That really would have been a dangerous, even tragic decision. If he was going to walk home or call Uber, he needs to say that for the sake of his own good name and the city’s peace of mind.
So now we need to hear from Steve Steel. And not with spin or a pro forma statement. He needs to tell us all he knows about what happened that night and what he thinks beyond what he knows.
If he thinks he has a problem, he should own that problem, take some time off, and get help with it. If he really believes he was assaulted, he should ask for a reopened investigation.
But if Mr. Steel intentionally misled the city, he should resign as president of council, as a matter of honor. Actions must have consequences, and we know all too well that the head of council is just a heartbeat away from the mayor’s seat.
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