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Published: Tuesday, 5/6/2008

2 Ohio Highway Patrol troopers fired for role in photographed prank

BLADE STAFF

Two Ohio Highway Patrol troopers in Sandusky have been fired after one was photographed by the other while dressed in a Ku Klux Klan-like costume, according to Col. Richard Collins, commander of the patrol.

The terminations follow a recommendation made by Gov. Ted Strickland on April 22 and occurred Friday, said Sgt. Jeremy Landis, a patrol spokesman in Columbus.

Troopers Eric Wlodarsky and Craig Franklin were placed on paid administrative April 22 pending the outcome of a pre-disciplinary hearing to be held later that week.

Trooper Wlodarsky used a cell phone on Jan. 20 to photograph Trooper Franklin wearing a white cone on his head and a white paper mask resembling the garb of a KKK member. Both troopers were on duty at the time.

Trooper Wlodarsky forwarded the photo by text message to Sgt. Jason Demuth at the patrol s Norwalk post, who then forwarded the picture to a dispatcher at the Toledo post.

The highway patrol s administrative investigative unit received an anonymous letter postmarked Jan. 22 detailing the incident Governor Strickland, during a meeting April 21, asked Public Safety Director Henry Guzman and Colonel Collins to begin proceedings to terminate the employment of the troopers.

This is a photo taken by Trooper Eric Wlodarsky of Trooper Craig Franklin in a Klu Klux Klan-like outfit. This is a photo taken by Trooper Eric Wlodarsky of Trooper Craig Franklin in a Klu Klux Klan-like outfit.
HANDOUT NOT BLADE PHOTO Enlarge

The governor said in a news release that the sanctions imposed by the patrol, including demotions and suspensions, were inadequate.

During the troopers initial disciplinary hearing, Colonel Collins said it was recommended they be terminated. But given their relatively clean disciplinary history, the troopers were able to take advantage of the patrol s "last-chance" program, he said.

The provision in their union contract allowed the troopers to keep their jobs if they maintained a clean record for two years.

At a March disciplinary hearing, Trooper Franklin, hired in 1990, received an unpaid five-day suspension, was ordered to attend diversity awareness training, and requested a transfer to the patrol s Fremont post.

Sergeant Demuth originally was given a three-day suspension for failing to report the incident to a supervisor and forwarding the photo to a subordinate. His discipline was reduced to a one-day suspension.

During separate administrative hearings held in February, Trooper Wlodarsky and Trooper Franklin said the prank was not meant to be malicious. Trooper Franklin, who made and wore the outfit, said it was similar to a skit performed by comedian Dave Chappelle.

He said he later realized it was wrong and was embarrassed by his actions.

Trooper Wlodarsky said he should have stopped Trooper Franklin from putting on the outfit.



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