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WARREN FOP: Official's race not at issue



Published: Tue, January 8, 2002 @ 12:00 a.m.



The mayor says he does not think the safety-service director has done anything wrong.

By PEGGY SINKOVICH

and AMANDA C. DAVIS

VINDICATOR TRUMBULL STAFF

WARREN -- Members of the city's Fraternal Order of Police say they are offended the safety-service director made comments that officers have trouble with him because he's black.

FOP members said Fred Harris' published statements couldn't be "farther from the truth."

"There is no race issue here," said patrol officer Chris Martin, FOP spokesman.

Harris stated in The Vindicator that he believes officers have problems with his showing up at arrests and other crime scenes because he's black and in a position of authority.

Patrol officer Gary Riggins, who is black and the FOP's president, said officers have no problem with Harris -- they just don't want him interfering at crime scenes.

"It is not his race that offends me. It is his actions at the scene," said officer Chris O'Rourke. "I have no problem with anyone watching us. The police department does not operate behind closed doors, but I do have problems with him interfering."

December arrest: O'Rourke and patrol officer Michael Krafcik said that on Dec. 15, Harris came to a crime scene while they were in the process of arresting two men.

"Mr. Harris pulled up and parked in the middle of the road," Krafcik said. "He made a two-lane highway a one-lane highway."

O'Rourke said he asked Harris to move his car and Harris responded that he is the safety-service director.

O'Rourke said that Harris then asked him if he was new on the department.

"I have been with the department for nine years," O'Rourke said. "I have never met Harris before and he said that he was going to come down to the station and introduce himself to me tomorrow. I took that as a threat."

No disciplinary action has been taken against O'Rourke.

Harris and Mayor Hank Angelo declined to return several telephone calls. The mayor says he does not think Harris has done anything wrong.

Shooting scene: Officers said that on Sept. 3, 2000, Harris showed up on the scene of a shooting, wouldn't obey officers' orders to stay behind crime scene tape and was hostile, screaming and using profanities.

Lt. Joseph Marhulik said he escorted Harris outside the tape after explaining he could be arrested for being there.

Marhulik said Harris "struck me in the chest three times" while trying to explain how he was treated by an officer at the door of the Parkman Road residence where a 1-year-old child was shot.

Officer Tim Ladner said Harris came up on the porch and demanded to know what happened. He said he began to push Harris backward right before Harris identified himself as the safety-service director.

Officers on the scene said Harris then went across the street where he was yelling and swearing in front of a group of people.

May 2000 incident: Officer Gary Riggins made a report Sept. 11, 2000, in reference to a May incident that year.

He said information went out over the police scanner about a man who went into a Belmont N.W. residence, cut the phone lines and threatened physical harm to a woman living there.

Riggins said that, having prior knowledge that the man was wanted on felony charges, he went to the rear door with his weapon drawn.

While knocking on the door, Riggins wrote, he heard a vehicle fast approaching the rear of the residence.

It was Harris, who demanded to know what was happening, Riggins said, explaining the director was asked to get away from the residence until officers knew more.

Riggins said Harris then went to the front of the house, where he got into a loud argument with a woman on the scene.

The two had to be separated, Riggins wrote, and "it is still unclear as to Fred Harris' connection to that incident."

sinkovich@vindy.com davis@vindy.com




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