PUT-IN-BAY, Ohio — Some of those most deeply involved in festering complaints about police misconduct in this island resort agree that an investigation quietly started a couple of weeks ago by the Ottawa County sheriff’s department and the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation is a good thing.
Whether they’ll agree on the outcome remains to be seen.
Sheriff Steve Levorchick confirmed Saturday that his office is partnering with BCI as part of an inquiry into heavy-handed tactics on South Bass Island, where Put-in-Bay is located.
“We’ve received numerous complaints from individuals on South Bass Island of misconduct in the police department,” Sheriff Levorchick said.
“The investigation’s in the early stages. Our job is to investigate, gather evidence, gather statements, and present it to the prosecuting attorney’s office,” Sheriff Levorchick said, noting that the investigation has been under way for several weeks but could not be publicly disclosed until Friday.
Among those airing tensions between police and some Put-in-Bay business owners is Dennis Rectenwald, owner of a guest house and a retired Port Clinton Schools superintendent.
In July, Mr. Rectenwald reported pulling into his driveway after the Put-in-Bay police followed him after he ran a stop sign. When he walked toward the officers to prove he was not intoxicated, he said he was told to put up his hands and was handcuffed. An officer, explaining himself, said Mr. Rectenwald, 67, had “charged him.”
“I’m delighted and quite frankly I think that it’s been a long time coming and I have complete confidence in the sheriff’s department,” Mr. Rectenwald said Saturday.
Mr. Rectenwald said he’s disappointed that neither the mayor nor the police chief apologized to him for the embarrassment in front of his guests and staff.
The incident was a factor in a public-safety hearing called July 24 by Police Chief Ric Lampela and Mayor Margaret Scarpelli to address the burgeoning complaints.
Another high-profile incident was the arrests last September of three Put-in-Bay Resort employees charged with obstruction of justice. Employees say they were arrested when they refused to speak with police officers out of view of the resort’s security cameras.
A resort official said at the public forum in July that they hesitate to call the Put-in-Bay police because “we can’t depend on them to do their jobs appropriately.”
The police department, which has a small year-round staff, expands in the summer with the hiring of seasonal officers who are paid $8 an hour in their first year and allowed to live in housing provided by the village for $5 per day.
Chief Lampela defended his police force and welcomed the investigation.
“Thank God. I say that because I’m confident I know what they’re going to find,” he said. “I do not think there will be criminal charges against any officers.”
He said his understanding of the Rectenwald case is that Mr. Rectenwald didn’t stop in response to the police flashing lights until he got to his property. He then exited his car and walked toward the officer with hands in his pockets, the chief said.
“At a traffic stop, a person does not get out of the car, does not approach the police officer, does not fail to follow the proper order,” Chief Lampela said.
Chief Lampela said he cannot comment on the Put-in-Bay Resort case because of a pending lawsuit, but said he hopes it goes to trial, after which he will comment.
Put-in-Bay’s officers typically are inexperienced and newly graduated from police-officer training, he said, but still do an excellent job.
Sheriff Levorchick said he asked Ottawa County Prosecutor Mark Mulligan to appoint a special prosecutor because Mr. Mulligan’s name came up in one of the allegations. He said he requested a special prosecutor from Lucas County.
Mr. Mulligan said Saturday that if prosecution is called for, he would prefer to let BCI use its staff prosecutors, but could request one from another county “on a moment’s notice.”
He said he deals with Put-in-Bay police daily, so it could complicate matters for him to attempt to investigate cases on which he has advised the department.
The Sandusky Register reported Saturday that surveillance video associated with the Put-in-Bay Resort arrests includes Sgt. Steve Korossy stating that Mr. Mulligan authorized the arrests. Mr. Mulligan said he did not recall authorizing arrests but said he authorized charges to be brought.
“I believe I said charges were OK. I don’t believe I talked about arrests,” Mr. Mulligan said.
The sheriff said he also contacted a federal agency to participate in the investigation based on the nature of some allegations, but the federal agency backed out after finding no federal cause of action. He declined to identify that agency. Mr. Mulligan said it was the FBI.
“With the numerous allegations that have been made, yes it is warranted,” long-time Village Councilman Jeff Koehler said of the inquiry. ”They have a lot of jobs, but one thing in common with law enforcement everywhere is civil rights. That’s the glue that holds the police department and law enforcement together. From the looks of those videos, there’s some really questions to be answered.“
Mr. Koehler said the conflicts had no apparent impact on Put-in-Bay’s waning 2014 vacation season.
“I think we’re having a pretty good season. You’d never even know what’s behind the scenes,” he said.