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NEWTON FALLS Tape shows cop hitting woman on head twice while arresting her



Published: Wed, April 24, 2002 @ 12:00 a.m.



The police officer's actions were recorded by a cruiser video camera.

PEGGY SINKOVICH

and STEPHEN SIFF

VINDICATOR TRUMBULL STAFF

NEWTON FALLS -- After striking a 22-year-old woman twice on the head with a flashlight, Newton Falls police Sgt. James Zimomra yelled, "Get down, b----," and flung her head to the ground, a videotape of the arrest shows.

Connie Casseday of Garrettsville needed seven stitches to close a wound.

She faces felony charges of assault on a police officer and obstructing official business, as well as a misdemeanor charge of disorderly conduct.

She has pleaded innocent.

"There was no way she could have hurt anybody," said Atty. George Kalafut, who represents the 115-pound Casseday and her companion, John Lusher, 23.

On the videotape, recorded from the second police car to arrive at the scene of the arrest April 2, Lusher appears to lay unconscious next to Zimomra's cruiser.

The Vindicator filed a public records request with the city to view the tape.

The police car hit him while chasing the couple through the back alleys of Newton Falls after a bar fight, Kalafut said.

He said Lusher suffered a massive bruise to his right hip and a bruised liver. Lusher is facing the same charges as Casseday, as well as a count of felony vandalism for breaking a window at one bar. He has also pleaded innocent.

What's been done

Zimomra, a 21-year veteran of the department, has been suspended 30 days without pay.

City officials declined to release Zimomra's personnel file until they review it and remove any information that they feel is not subject to public scrutiny.

Among reasons cited for the sergeant's suspension by Police Chief Robert Carlson is Zimomra's violation of a policy prohibiting officers from hitting people in the head unless someone's life is in danger.

The chief also faulted Zimomra for not turning on the video camera in his own cruiser.

"I have not taken this action lightly, but have made this decision as a result of what I believe were a series of bad decisions made by the officer in responding to the circumstances surrounding this incident," said Carlson.

"And I believe my response to these actions has been appropriate in this case, keeping in mind that it is always easy to second-guess a person's actions after the fact."

Zimomra is appealing the suspension. He could not be reached, but in his report of what happened, Zimomra says the woman "came at me as if she was trying to get a hold of my weapon."

What's in reports

According to police reports, the Trumbull County Sheriff's Department was called to Newton Falls to investigate an auto crash.

Lusher denied he was hit by the cruiser, but Kalafut said he was.

Reports from the sheriff's department state that it appeared Lusher had been drinking.

Employees at Faces Lounge called police after the couple behaved in a rude and threatening way, they said.

The two then went to Chassis Lounge, where Lusher got into a fight with another male patron, said Jason Baillie, a patron who was helping out behind the bar.

After the two combatants were thrown out, Casseday "got in his face," Baillie said. "She was moving her mouth quite a bit."

Baillie called police after a fist-size hole was punched in the front window.

Lusher told deputies Zimomra was "very polite," according to reports. Lusher also told deputies he was on probation after being recently released from prison after serving time for felonious assault.

He said he was afraid he would get in trouble for drinking.

Lusher refused medical treatment after his arrest. He and Casseday are due in Newton Falls Municipal Court for a preliminary hearing May 7.

City Law Director Rick Schwartz said he does not know if there will be a criminal investigation into Zimomra's actions.

The case against Lusher and Casseday is being handled by Tracie Timko-Rose, a Warren City prosecutor.

sinkovich@vindy

siff@vindy




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