TRUMBULL COUNTY Discipline questions arise in strip-search allegations
The mayor says he will talk with the chief this week.
By PEGGY SINKOVICH
VINDICATOR TRUMBULL STAFF
WARREN -- More than a year has passed since allegations of illegal strip-searches by city police surfaced, and a city official and community leader want to know when officers will be disciplined.
Councilman James Pugh and Tom Conley, president and CEO of the Trumbull County Urban League, said they don't understand why the officers involved have not had to face any discipline.
"I know city officials said they didn't want the officers disciplined while civil lawsuits dealing with the strip-searches were pending, but all those suits have been settled," Conley said. "The criminal matter should have occurred first, but since there was no movement by the city, these citizens went forward with the civil suits instead. Something should be done right away. There are no more excuses."
The last lawsuit, filed by Dominic Gambone of Liberty, was settled in July. He received $75,000.
A half-dozen men filed lawsuits alleging illegal strip-searches. All of the those who filed received monetary settlements.
"The discipline should have been automatic," Pugh said. "If the city won't do anything, then the U.S. Department of Justice needs to do something."
Police Chief John Mandopoulos is on vacation and could not be reached.
Mayor Michael O'Brien said he will be meeting with the chief later this week to discuss the matter.
"We would not have been fully ensured of the officers cooperation in the civil cases if they were worried about pending discipline, so I asked John to wait on any discipline," said Law Director Greg Hicks. "Now that the cases are settled, there is no reason that a complete and full investigation cannot take place."
Hicks has said that he also plans to have an attorney review the allegations to determine if any police officers should face criminal charges.
In July 2003, The Vindicator reported that Patrol Officer Tim Parana admitted routinely conducting body cavity searches and strip-searches on male suspects even in minor crimes, an internal police investigation says. That investigation was started because of Gambone's complaint, police officials said.
After an internal investigation, Mandopoulos declined to discipline Parana and his partner Robert Trimble, but then-Mayor Hank Angelo and then-Safety-Service Director Fred Harris ordered the investigation reopened after the paper published the article on strip-searches. Parana and Trimble have still not been disciplined.
Trumbull County prosecutors say that strip-searches should be done only in certain cases and that a list of procedures must be followed, including, in many cases, getting a search warrant.
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. It is a fourth-degree misdemeanor if officers do not write a report after performing a strip search.
No reports were written, officials have said.
After Gambone filed a complaint 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.