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Police chief will keep job, pay fine



Published: Tue, August 21, 2001 @ 12:00 a.m.



Sometimes the chief traded what he called a 'courtesy' for information on crimes.

By TIM YOVICH

VINDICATOR TRUMBULL STAFF

HUBBARD -- Hubbard Township Police Chief Todd Coonce will keep his job, even though he has admitted contempt of court.

The charge stemmed from a state investigation of fixing traffic tickets.

Coonce admitted guilt Friday before Girard Municipal Judge Michael Bernard.

He was fined $1,308, which must be paid in six months, and ordered to take no retaliation against township police officers who brought the situation to light.

In addition, the department must institute a procedure so tickets are secured and logged to keep track of them.

In a statement released Monday, trustees said they have "full faith and confidence in Chief Coonce's ability to continue as the head of our law enforcement services."

Trustees said they agreed with Judge Bernard's actions, noting they are pleased they were "remedial rather than punitive."

Atty. Anthony Farris, an assistant Youngstown prosecutor who served as special prosecutor in the case, said the $1,308 is what the court would have received in fines and costs from 14 traffic tickets.

Judge's order: Judge Bernard wrote in his order that by failing to file the citations with the court, Coonce substituted his judgment for the court's.

"In doing so, Chief Coonce was facilitating others in circumventing the legal and judicial process. By interfering with the lawful procedures of the court, Chief Coonce impaired and impeded the administration of justice," the judge wrote.

For a ticket to be dismissed, a form must be sent from the police to court with the ticket. The court, not the police, dismisses the citation.

Coonce admitted to The Vindicator in June that he voided traffic tickets but didn't fix them. Coonce did not return a telephone call Monday seeking comment.

Last August, agents from the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Identification and Investigation served a search warrant on the township police station, seizing records of the tickets.

Reasoning: Coonce had said he voided the tickets because he though the officers who wrote them could have used "better judgment" and police "should be able to work with people."

In his order, Judge Bernard noted the tickets were issued between May 14, 1997, and Sept. 18, 2000.

Based on the representations of Farris and defense lawyer Jeffrey Adler of Boardman, the judge wrote that on most occasions the tickets were voided by Coonce as "courtesies."

Coonce did not solicit or receive anything of value in exchange for the courtesies, and on a few occasions, the chief voided tickets on condition the accused perform community service for the township, or in exchange for information the chief believed was needed to solve crimes.

yovich@vindy.com




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