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Published: Saturday, 5/9/2009

Toledo police layoffs freed few suspects

BY IGNAZIO MESSINA
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Only a small number of accused criminals got a pass in court because the arresting Toledo police officer was one of the 75 laid off last week, and the city could still refile charges against those people, Chief Mike Navarre said.

We are going to work it out and I don t think this is going to be an insurmountable problem, Chief Navarre said.

Those cases for which they need officers for court testimony or appearances, we are going to make an effort to get subpoenas served and make sure they are there.

On Thursday, Toledo Municipal Court presiding Judge Tim Kuhlman said the court s seven judges were forced to dismiss some misdemeanor and felony cases when the city could not produce the laid-off officer to appear.

The Finkbeiner administration had been unaware that the judges were dismissing the cases.

Most felony cases that happen in the city of Toledo are filed in the municipal court first before a grand jury could indict. The charges range from misdemeanor traffic offenses to felony drug cases, Judge Kuhlman said.

The chief said he met yesterday with Judge Kuhlman and spoke to Lucas County Prosecutor Julia Bates about the problem.

This is a temporary problem since the officers are laid off and obviously not making any more arrests, Chief Navarre said.

Dave Toska, chief prosecutor for the city, did not return telephone calls seeking comment.

John Weglian, chief of the special units division for the Lucas County prosecutor s office, countered the notion that cases were being dismissed because officers were unavailable. Instead, felony cases dismissed in Toledo Municipal Court were more a result of evidence issues, he said.

Mr. Weglian agreed that the layoffs will impact criminal cases in the courts, although no one is sure how things are going to shake out.

Several cases all of which have been nonviolent drug felonies have not been indicted in Common Pleas Court, Mr. Weglian said. Some of those decisions were made because it was unclear whether evidence and officers would be available at a trial, he said. But that doesn t mean those charges go away, he added. Those cases can be presented again to the grand jury at a later date.

It s a function of establishing priorities, he said, adding that each case is an individualized matter. The probability is that the charges will be re-presented [to a grand jury] if they are presentable.

As for higher felonies and violent offenses, the prosecutor s office plans to move forward, Mr. Weglian said. That may mean subpoenaing officers no longer with the department and working with detectives who have been reassigned.

Mr. Weglian said the prosecutor s office and the police department have discussed how subpoenas will be delivered to those officers no longer in uniform.

Dan Wagner, president of the Toledo Police Patrolman s Association, said subpoenaing officers for court presents a new set of contractual problems.

Mr. Wagner questioned that if those officers are being called in to testify, does that mean they are being called back to work? And if they are, even temporarily, will they be paid and will seniority come into play?

That s the whole problem. They didn t stop to think of the far-reaching effects, he said. And it didn t even have to be this way. We had a deal if only [the mayor] didn t let his ego get in the way.

Mr. Wagner said the dismissal of cases is another unintended result of what he called a short-sighted plan to reduce the city s budget deficit. He noted that through the reallocation of manpower, a similar number of patrol officers are on the street. But when the 75 most junior officers were laid off last week, what went as well was energy and eagerness, he said.

Patrol officers, he added, initiate money-generating tickets and make arrests that lead to court fines.

Those officers were making the majority of the arrests, he said. Some officers, he said, who had been off the street for decades were now back in uniform. They re not comfortable yet in what they re doing there.

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

He has said if he doesn t get concessions from the police union he will lay off 125 additional officers.

Staff writer Erica Blake contributed to this report.

Contact Ignazio Messina at:imessina@theblade.comor 419-724-6171.



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