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Officers cleared, but not at work



Published: Wed, January 30, 2002 @ 12:00 a.m.



The officers will remain under suspension and could face disciplinary action.

By BOB JACKSON

VINDICATOR COURTHOUSE REPORTER

YOUNGSTOWN -- An acquittal on felony charges doesn't mean city police officers Mark Rakocy and Christopher Lombard automatically go back to work.

"Their status remains the same until I confer with my staff and the law department," said Police Chief Richard Lewis.

Rakocy, 34, of Cordova Avenue, and Lombard, 33, of Gypsy Lane, were cleared of robbery charges Tuesday. A jury in Mahoning County Common Pleas Court deliberated two hours Monday and six hours Tuesday before returning the verdicts.

The officers were accused of rousting a Struthers man in the restroom of the Pulse bar on Market Street in March 2001, taking $480 from him in the process.

Both officers have been suspended without pay since being indicted by a county grand jury in April 2001. Under Ohio law, they could not carry a firearm while under indictment for a felony.

What's next: That prohibition is erased by their acquittal, but Lewis said the officers still could face disciplinary action for violating department rules and regulations.

Despite the jury's verdict, they could be accused of engaging in conduct unbecoming a police officer, among other things, and could be fired, Lewis said.

"We felt that we had a good, solid case in this matter," the chief said. "We looked at it in the beginning, found that there was probable cause, and our opinion has not changed."

Detective Sgt. Charles Guzzy said during the trial that the department's internal affairs division interviewed some 30 witnesses before deciding to press the charges.

Rakocy and Lombard were relieved by the verdict and said it validates their insistence that they did nothing wrong.

"I always had faith in my innocence," Rakocy said. "Justice has been served."

Reaction: He and Lombard said they want to get back to work as soon as possible but acknowledged that they will have to wait a while longer for their fate to be decided.

"We want to get Mark back to work as soon as possible. He's a police officer. That's what he does," said Atty. Dennis DiMartino, who represented Rakocy. Lombard was represented by attorneys Steven Goldberg, Michael Goldberg and Martin Yavorcik.

"I'm glad the truth had an opportunity to be told. This has been emotionally difficult for me," Lombard said, noting that he finds it difficult to set foot in public restrooms since the indictment.

Prosecutor Paul Gains said he thought there was enough evidence to win the case, but knew going in that it would tough for jurors to convict policemen.

"People are willing to give police officers a large amount of doubt," he said.

Gains said the case shows that his office and the police department are willing to act when there is evidence of police misconduct.

"It should also make police officers think about where they go," he said.

Rakocy agreed and said he'll no longer frequent bars as a result of the charges.

bjackson@vindy.com




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