It's bad enough that one or more teenagers attended a New Year's Eve party hosted by a city of Struthers police officer at his home where alcohol was reportedly consumed. But given that the officer, Xavier Young, is accused of instigating the beating of two men who were both found unconscious on the ground outside the house, an internal police probe falls short of what is needed. A state criminal investigative agency, such as the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation or the highway patrol, should be brought in immediately.
Our call for an independent investigation is no reflection on Struthers Safety Director John Sveda, who placed the police officer on unpaid leave, or Mayor Daniel Mamula, who has pledged to leave no stone unturned. However, there are issues surrounding the incident that make it more than an assault by an off-duty cop on a couple of citizens.
We have long believed that police officers should not investigate allegations of wrongdoing within their ranks because it's a no-win situation for the department and the local government. If the probe results in criminal charges being filed against the accused officer, the reaction from members of the force would be that the chief and others were on a witch hunt because of the widespread media attention the case received. If, on the other hand, the investigation clears the officer of any wrongdoing, the public would assume a cover-up.
Several questions come to mind based on the news reports of what occurred at Young's house:
UWhat was the teenager -- there could have been more than one, according to a television story -- doing at a party at 2 a.m. where there was alcohol?
UWhy did Young, who is sworn to uphold the law, let an argument involving Jason and Shawn Scott and others get out of hand?
UWhy did the officer get involved in the fight? (He has been accused by Shawn Scott of jumping on his brother and choking him)
UWhen Shawn Scott says that there were "a bunch of young kids drinking," how old were the kids? How did they end up at Officer Young's house?
And, the one question that would certainly justify an independent investigation: Were there other members of the Struthers Police Department at the party?
According to the story published in Sunday's Vindicator, police were called to the residence on Fifth Street at 2 a.m., and when they got there found the Scott brothers lying on the ground unconscious. The Scotts had gone to Young's house to pick up the teenage daughter of Shawn Scott's girlfriend, who lives nearby.
A verbal disagreement ensued and eventually involved up to 25 people in an alley way behind the Fifth Street home.
Jason Scott said he was standing talking to someone, "and that's the last thing I remember."
He spoke to a reporter Saturday from his hospital bed.
"If it was something I said [that caused this], I'm sorry I said it," he said. "If there was a cop there, why didn't he stop it?'
Scott said that he does not know Young.
Shawn Scott told WFMJ Channel 21 News that there were "a bunch of young kids drinking" at the party. He said that Young was on top of his brother choking him. "I pulled him off, then we were jumped" by a large number of people.
Safety Director Sveda and Mayor Mamula have taken the right action in not only placing the officer on unpaid leave, but in contacting the Mahoning County prosecutor's office.
However, it should come as no surprise if there are as many versions of what occurred in the early morning hours of Jan. 1 as there were people at the party. And because alcohol was involved, there could well an epidemic of memory loss.
It is important for all the facts to come out, which is why we urge the mayor to ask Prosecutor Paul Gains to request a state investigation.