Police abuse case up for review
They were caught after a new county-owned building was broken into.
WARREN -- The U.S. Department of Justice will be asked for an independent review into the use of force by city police during arrests after a March 1 break-in.
"I believe the force was certainly excessive," said Atty. Raymond Masek, representing Brett Hemberger and Jason Mills, who were arrested with Meghan A. Collins and Mark Mills.
The arrests were made at an Eagle Creek Road building after a break-in at an Enterprise Drive Northwest construction site and a subsequent chase. A $1 million facility for the Trumbull-Geauga Solid Waste District, now opened, was under construction there at the time.
All four individuals filed complaints with the police internal affairs department alleging excessive force.
The four also have filed a $2 million lawsuit alleging excessive force, pending in Trumbull County Common Pleas Court. Because it involves Constitutional issues, Masek said that case may be moved to U.S. District Court.
Masek said he'll make the request to the feds if the city doesn't.
"Mr. Masek is making a self-serving statement based upon a civil lawsuit he's filed, which has little or no basis," responded Greg Hicks, Warren's law director.
Masek asks Warren to turn over a police internal affairs report to the five-person justice department task force that previously has visited the city. He also wants the task force to have all supplementary statements, affidavits, case files, police policies as well as copies of all videos, radio audio and radio log, officers' notes and incident reports.
Hicks said it's not Warren's task to gather up documents sought by Masek; rather, any individual may contact the justice department if they believe rights have been violated and -- if that department finds a basis for inquiry -- it contacts the city, which would cooperate. "That's how it works," Hicks said.
The internal affairs report says police officers did use force when they arrested the four, but there is no conclusive evidence indicating excessive force was used. The report, written by Lt. Thomas Skoczylas, states officer Emanuel Nites and other officers at the scene were justified in their actions and should be exonerated.
Welcomed third party
"I think there was a propensity to take the word of the officers, and I think an independent third-party review would be welcomed by all," Masek said.
The end result from the task force, Masek said, should be a written opinion on whether the officers on March 1 used excessive force or were reckless in their conduct.
"I have no reason to believe they wouldn't," Masek said of the justice department's willingness to look at the matter. "They seem to exhibit a desire in coming to the city of Warren to look at these issues."
Masek said Hemberger's facial injuries, and the arm-long cast worn by Jason Mills, show the force was excessive. The lawyer has reviewed the internal affairs report and said he found some inaccuracies and incomplete information.
"While the complainants and witnesses giving statements in their behalf all state that the complainants were beaten, and officers used too much force, the officers' side of the story is that enough force was used to overcome resistance," Skoczylas' report states.
The lawsuit, however, states Nites and an unidentified officer hit Jason Mills after he was handcuffed. Mills states in the lawsuit he was beaten with flashlights. The suit says Mills suffered multiple arm fractures.
The lawsuit further says Nites struck Hemberger in the back of the head, and other officers kicked him and beat him with flashlights.
Masek said he is not involved in the criminal cases. He said Hemberger, 23, of North River Road, Warren, "stated he had no right to do what he did, but he did not deserve to be beaten as he was."
Hemberger faces charges of breaking and entering, resisting arrest and assault on a peace officer. He was located in the crawl space of the Eagle Creek building, "where he actively resisted arrest, refusing to give the officer his hands and striking the officer several times during the struggle," the police report states.
That report further states that Nites and Hemberger fell through the ceiling. After the fall, Hemberger continued to resist arrest, the report states.
Jason Mills, 21, of Hall Road, Andover, was charged with breaking and entering, resisting arrest and falsification. He was located in an upstairs loft apartment.
Collins, 18, of Evans Street, Niles, and Mark Mills, 23, of Cherry Street, Newton Falls, both face charges of obstructing justice.