Akron refusing to identify officers who fatally shot suspects

Category: Police Brutality

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The city of Akron is refusing to promptly identify officers who shoot and kill civilians, even after the officers are back on the job.

The city has previously identified officers under investigation for using deadly force. But officers’ names and records are being withheld for fatal police encounters in December and February.

In the December incident, an officer killed a man holding a knife to his estranged wife’s throat.

In February, two officers fired into a Ritchie Avenue home, killing a young man ordered multiple times to drop a handgun.

In March, the Akron Beacon Journal requested the names, disciplinary records and personnel files of the officers involved in both incidents. Three weeks later, the city law department denied the request in a letter citing a handful of exemptions in state laws.

Akron Police Chief Steve Mylett would not comment on the city law department’s decision to withhold the information.

But in October 2020, the city provided the Beacon Journal with the names of every officer with recorded use of deadly force since 2004. The list included four incidents that, at the time, were still under investigation.

The Akron Police Department’s Office of Professional Standards and Accountability reviews each incident, producing a report that gets forwarded to the Akron Police Auditor. The matter is then reviewed by outside agencies.

These external audits were handled locally until 2020 when Summit County Prosecutor Sherri Bevan Walsh, citing her office’s close working relationship with Akron police, decided to turn over all use of force investigations to state investigators. The Ohio Attorney General’s office now conducts the external reviews, presenting evidence to Summit County grand juries that have so far declined to indict local officers who use lethal force to protect themselves or the public.

The Beacon Journal is seeking the names to enable reporters to request personnel and any disciplinary records for the officers, Editor Michael Shearer said. He raised concerns with the city’s records release with Mayor Dan Horrigan on April 15.

“While the city is now releasing videos of these incidents, the public has a right to know which officers used deadly force and whether they have a clean service record or not,” Shearer said. “We respect the dangerous work officers perform, but believe the public has a right to more transparency.”

The city has not responded to the Beacon Journal requests for an explanation of the matter other than clarifying one issue.

In denying the Beacon Journal’s request for the names, personnel files and disciplinary records of officers involved in the Dec. 23 shooting death of James Gross and Feb. 23 shooting death of Lawrence LeJames Rodgers, a city attorney cited exemptions in Ohio’s Open Records Act.

The attorney said the records are part of active investigations, the officers are uncharged suspects in those ongoing investigations and releasing their names “would endanger the life or physical safety of law enforcement personnel,” according to the sections of Ohio Revised Code cited in the letter denying the release of the records.

The names of the officers involved in the February incidents are blacked out in administrative leave documents the city provided to the Beacon Journal.

The officer who shot Gross in December was cleared by an internal investigation and returned to “full duty status” on Jan. 4, according to the redacted records.

Two other officers were free to “return to their regular duty assignments” March 18, nearly a month after being placed on paid administrative leave, according to the redacted records.

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See the original article here: https://www.beaconjournal.com/story/news/2022/05/03/akron-refuses-release-names-police-officer-involved-shootings/7377928001/

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