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GIRARD Police chief wants escape to be investigated



Published: Sat, July 21, 2001 @ 12:00 a.m.



Police say they were never asked to watch the prisoner.

By TIM YOVICH

VINDICATOR TRUMBULL STAFF

GIRARD -- Police Chief Anthony Ross has no problem with asking an outside agency to investigate how a prisoner escaped, especially since a judge is blaming his department.

"I want to clear the air. We didn't do anything wrong," Ross said Friday.

Lee Branch, 48, of Youngstown, was sentenced Wednesday by municipal Judge Michael Bernard to 180 days in the county jail for a probation violation.

Bailiff Andrew Pecchio said that after the sentencing he took Branch from the second-floor courtroom in the Girard Justice Center to the first-floor lobby.

Pecchio said he had Branch sit on a bench and told two deputy bailiffs to keep an eye on him because Liberty police were to pick him up. Branch walked away before Liberty police arrived.

Blame: Judge Bernard said in a court document that Girard police are to blame.

Taking exception to that, Ross said the court never asked his officers to take custody of Branch nor has it notified city police of the escape.

Ross said he may ask the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Identification and Investigation to investigate "because we are being caught in the middle."

The judge has declined to answer questions about Branch's getaway.

Police Capt. Frank Bigowsky said Branch was the court's prisoner at the time and, had the escape been reported immediately, there was a chance he could have been found.

Bigowsky said Pecchio could have asked police officers from Hubbard Township or Girard, who were in the court area, to watch Branch until Liberty police arrived.

"They [the judge] have tried and convicted us without an investigation here," Bigowsky said.

"We didn't do anything wrong," Ross added.

Investigation: In a letter from Ross to Judge Bernard on Friday, the chief said his department will conduct an investigation or assist in one.

Ross said in the letter that if the judge doesn't want local police to be involved in a probe, he has no objections to bringing in an outside agency such as BCI.

Pecchio said Friday the judge does not think an investigation is needed because he knows how and why Branch got away.

"We're taking steps to assure it doesn't happen again," the bailiff said.

Those steps include assuring that the justice center security system is operational.

Ross said he wrote two letters to the judge before the escape seeking the judge's security policies and procedures, but hasn't received anything.

yovich@vindy.com




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