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Published: Friday, 1/28/2011

2 officers cleared of improper response to 'check safety' call

An internal review by Toledo police has cleared two officers accused of failing to properly check an abandoned North Toledo warehouse where the body of a missing woman was found a month later.

The review into the officers' response centered on a report of screams coming from the warehouse.

When veteran Toledo police Officers Donald Nachtrab and Ronald Pribe were dispatched Aug. 26, 2009, on a safety check to the vacant warehouse at 1510 Elm St., their response was "more than adequate," the review showed.

The department initiated an investigation of the officers' conduct after an anonymous source was quoted in The Blade saying that the officers did not adequately investigate the warehouse after being dispatched there on a "check safety" call. One month after the officers were called to the building, the body of a missing woman, Cindy Sumner, was found inside.

According to a report of the investigation completed in September, the officers spent more than five minutes at the scene and Officer Nachtrab emerged from the vehicle and walked one side of the warehouse before determining that there were no fresh entry points and no sounds coming from the building. The officers' statements, coupled with no credible contradictions, led investigators to label the allegations "unfounded," the report stated.

"Based on [the information] these officers were presented with, their response was more than adequate, and that's the bottom line," Chief Mike Navarre said. "Based on my experience with these officers, they are very credible. I believe they did exactly what they said they did, and I have nothing to disprove it."

Miss Sumner, 21, was found dead in the basement of the Elm Street warehouse Sept. 17 -- six weeks after she was reported missing from her North Toledo home. Toledoan Elhadi Robbins is charged with her murder and awaits trial in Lucas County Common Pleas Court.

Chief Navarre said he initiated a review of the officers' actions after an article was published in August in The Blade, in which an anonymous source said that the two officers were only on scene for a few minutes and did not get out of their patrol vehicle.

According to the internal report, the investigation "proved conclusively that the alleged acts did not occur … or there is no credible evidence to support the complaint."

The chief said it is not unusual to receive calls of screaming or to have officers dispatched to check on someone's safety. He noted that once the officers arrived, nobody approached them with additional information.

In a recent interview, Officer Nachtrab said the unfounded allegations were upsetting because they reflected poorly on not only himself and his partner, but the department. He added that only one call was made to police, and the caller said someone had asked him to call, but he didn't know "if there is anything to it or not."

"I don't want the family to think we didn't do anything," he said.

"I can't imagine finding a cop in this country who wouldn't run into a building to help someone who was in distress," he added. "… We didn't blow that call off."

Chief Navarre pointed out that despite numerous attempts by investigators, the anonymous source has not come forward to tell police what he saw.

Attorney Stephen Hartman said he was contacted by a member of Miss Sumner's family but said "a decision hasn't been made yet on whether or not to pursue" any litigation against the department. He added that he would be interested in speaking to any witnesses.

Officer Nachtrab, a 22-year veteran of the department, received a professional service award in 2004. Officer Pribe, a 23-year veteran, received the award in 2005.

Both officers outlined in reports the actions they took in response to the call, including separating to cover more ground and turning off the vehicle's engine to ensure they could hear better.

Investigators interviewed seven civilian witnesses before determining the allegations against the officers were unfounded.



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