STRIP-SEARCHES Legal expert to review all cases
The police chief says he doesn't think officers will be charged.
By PEGGY SINKOVICH
VINDICATOR TRUMBULL STAFF
WARREN -- An independent attorney will be asked to review allegations that city police officers performed illegal strip-searches, the city law director said.
Greg Hicks, law director, said Friday that he will be trying to find a lawyer, possibly from Youngstown, who can go over the cases and determine whether any criminal charges should be filed against the police officers.
The law director said he wanted to wait until all the civil lawsuits relating to alleged illegal strip-searches were settled before he sought the independent review.
The last lawsuit dealing with the allegations of strip-searches was settled about a week ago.
The city has spent $115,000 in the past year to settle lawsuits in which police were accused of illegally strip-searching suspects.
Mayor Michael O'Brien said he and Doug Franklin, safety-service director, will be meeting with Hicks next week to discuss the independent review.
"I don't understand why this wasn't done immediately," said Tom Conley, director of the Warren-Trumbull Urban League. "As soon as the allegations were made, someone should have been investigating the officers."
LaShawn Ziegler of Warren, who received a $25,000 settlement on his lawsuit, said he thinks the officers should be charged.
Ziegler said he was strip-searched after he was pulled over for a traffic charge.
"They are breaking the law, and how do we get justice?" Ziegler asked. "Who is going to police them? They are not paying any money for the lawsuits. It's the city taxpayers that are paying for the lawsuits. When are the officers going to be punished?"
Courts have determined that conducting an illegal strip-search is a first-degree misdemeanor, punishable by up to six months in jail and a $1,000 fine.
"There won't be any criminal charge," said police Chief John Mandopoulos. "Intent has a lot to do with it."
The chief says he doesn't think the police officers had criminal intent when they were performing the strip-searches.
In March 2003, Mandopoulos implemented a new departmental policy, with strict guidelines on strip-searches. The new guidelines, written by city police and law department officials, require doctors to be present during the most invasive searches.
In July 2003, The Vindicator reported that one officer admitted routinely conducting body-cavity searches and strip-searches on male suspects even in minor crimes, according to an internal police investigation. That investigation was started because of a citizen's complaint, police officials said.