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HUBBARD Ticket-fixing case draws residents' ire



Published: Sun, August 26, 2001 @ 12:00 a.m.



One resident compared the police chief's actions to the pope's going into a porn shop.

By TIM YOVICH

VINDICATOR TRUMBULL STAFF

HUBBARD -- Although there has been support from several corners for him, the Hubbard Township police chief's ticket-fixing case has left some residents with an aftertaste.

Chief Todd Coonce admitted Aug. 17 that he was in contempt of Girard Municipal Court for dismissing 14 tickets from May 14, 1997, to Sept. 18, 2000.

Judge Michael Bernard ordered Coonce to pay a $1,308 fine, which is the amount the court would have received if those who were issued the tickets had paid fines.

Trustees back him: Meanwhile, township trustees have said they have "full faith and confidence" in Coonce. They have not taken any disciplinary action against him.

Coonce said he has received "a ton of support from the community," including backing from his police officers.

Coonce said he mistakenly believed he had discretion to void tickets. Even so, he said, he didn't abuse that discretion, since 700 to 900 tickets are written annually.

Some township residents declined to comment. One young man didn't want to express his opinion because his father is a Liberty police officer, but fixing tickets doesn't sit well with other township residents approached by The Vindicator.

Some comments: "That's like the pope going to a porn shop," commented Howard DeRaud of Elizabeth Street. "He's supposed to be enforcing the law."

"I could have been speeding all this time," DeRaud said, implying that had he been caught, he could have gotten his tickets fixed.

Al Guyer of Tamarack Drive believes Coonce should be handed the ultimate discipline by trustees.

"I think it stinks for him to keep his job," Guyer asserted. "If I had done something like that, I'd have lost my job. This is a public trust."

Adeline Theiss of Drumond Avenue said she doesn't understand why Coonce would fix the tickets.

"He knows it was wrong. That's his reputation," Theiss said. "It doesn't make him look too good as a police chief."

Guyer was also critical of trustees for not disciplining the chief.

"I don't have faith in the trustees if they have faith in this guy," he said. Of course, we can change that [trustees]," he added.

Paul Freeze of Brookfield Road said he believes the ticket-fixing in the township is "probably no different than other police departments."

The court has a procedure to void tickets that have been issued. The ticket and a dismissal form are given to the court by police. The court must dismiss the citation.

Judge Bernard wrote that the chief had been substituting his own judgment for that of the judge.

"By interfering with the lawful procedures of the court, Chief Coonce impaired and impeded the administration of justice," the judge wrote.

No action planned: Asked late last week if disciplinary action will be taken against Coonce, Howard Bradley, chairman of the three-member board of township trustees, responded, "There isn't anything pending at this time."

The primary reason there hasn't been any discipline, Bradley explained, is because Coonce didn't receive anything of value for voiding the tickets.

Judge Bernard wrote that both the prosecutor and defense lawyer told him the chief didn't receive anything of value for extending so-called "courtesies."

Bradley said Coonce told trustees everything about the tickets when the investigation began 13 months ago.

"He didn't hide anything. He was up front with us," the trustee asserted.

yovich@vindy.com




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