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Published: Friday, 5/8/2009

Layoffs let suspects walk free; judges dismissing cases involving 75 officers

BY IGNAZIO MESSINA
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Some accused criminals arrested by the 75 Toledo police officers who were laid off last week could get a free pass on facing charges unless there is a victim to testify in their cases.

Toledo Municipal Court presiding Judge Tim Kuhlman said yesterday that the court's seven judges have been forced to dismiss both misdemeanor and felony cases when the city can't produce the officer - who, in some cases, would be the only witness.

"We are pretty much dismissing all of the cases when the officer has been laid off and the city can't go forward because their witness is not there," Judge Kuhlman said. "I can't give you numbers, but it's probably equal to the same percentage of the [police department] who were laid off."

The charges range from misdemeanor traffic offenses to felony drug cases, the judge said.

"Any felony case that happens in the city of Toledo, most of those are filed in Toledo Municipal Court first and then once the grand jury would indict them, they would get transferred over to the county," he said. "We have 12 days before a preliminary hearing has to be held and if the city isn't able, we dismiss the case instead of binding it over."

Police Chief Mike Navarre said he was surprised to hear felony cases were being dismissed because the city took steps weeks ago to prevent that from happening.

Felony cases in the municipal court are heard only in courtroom three by Lucas County prosecutors.

"I met with Lucas County Prose-cutor Julia Bates because we were more concerned with the felon cases," Chief Navarre said. "We agreed that we would give them a list of the laid-off officers and we would assist in making sure they were available for phone calls for pretrial conferences and, if necessary, for court."

Mrs. Bates could not be reached for comment last night.

The chief said the laid-off officers would be served subpoenas if needed and "reminded of their responsibility" to appear in court.

Chief Navarre said the list of officers was also sent to the municipal court through the department's court liaison.

"If [Judge Kuhlman] made a decision to dismiss those cases, he did that on his own without any discussion," he said.

Judge Kuhlman said it would be impractical to subpoena laid-off officers to appear in court.

"I could do that, but it has to be personally delivered and we do not have the manpower or money to serve every officer," Judge Kuhlman said.

"Right now, officers get their subpoena through interdepartment mail, and it's a much more cost-effective way."

Robert Reinbolt, the city's safety director and Mayor Carty Finkbeiner's chief of staff, said he would talk to the municipal judges today about an alternative to dismissals.

"It doesn't seem right, and I would hope the judges find another way," Mr. Reinbolt said. "The bottom line is we don't have the money to pay the officers, so I don't know what we could do."

Mayor Finkbeiner laid off the 75 police officers as part of his strategy to help reduce a $21.3 million general fund deficit.

Contact Ignazio Messina at:

imessina@theblade.com

or 419-724-6171.



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