By Patricia Meade
Two of the four officers received 30-day suspensions without pay.
YOUNGSTOWN — Mayor Jay Williams was talked out of firing two patrolmen who made up their own quitting time during an overnight shift in mid-June.
“The actions of the officers were wholly unacceptable and not consistent with what we expect from Youngstown Police Department staff or any city staff,” the mayor said.
“The actions were serious enough, in my opinion, to have them terminated, but I did take wise counsel and input from my chief of staff [Jason Whitehead], the chief of police [Jimmy Hughes] and staff inspector [Lt. Rod Foley] who felt the officers recognized the seriousness of the infractions and yet could still provide service to the citizens of Youngstown,” Williams said Wednesday.
“That is why I did not insist that they be terminated.”
The officers, disciplined this week after an Internal Affairs Division investigation by Foley, are:
UPatrolman Michael Brindisi, 38, who was hired in February 2000. He has been suspended for 30 days without pay for leaving early June 14. The suspension began Tuesday and ends Sept. 3. He earns $25.38 per hour so the loss is $4,060. During suspension, he will not be permitted to work side jobs as a security officer, which many patrolmen do to supplement their income.
UPatrolman Stephen Price, 41, was hired in March 1993. He also left early on June 14 and received the same discipline as Brindisi, his one-time partner.
UPatrolman Edward Kenney, 40, who was hired in July 2001. He admitted that he did not clear a break-in call in a timely fashion on June 14 and could have responded to a hit-skip car accident that morning but didn’t, telling internal affairs investigators, “I don’t like taking crashes.” Kenney agreed to give up 16 hours of accumulated time. Accumulated time is earned when officers work overtime but hold the hours for use at a later time.
UPatrolman Brian Butler, 31, was hired in September 2000. Butler received written counseling for using his personal cell phone twice when he filled in for the radio operator in the 911 Center on June 14. His partner that night was Kenney. Butler, too, left early, but it has been past practice that officers filling in for the radio operator can leave when the shift ends at 5 a.m. Butler’s regular patrol shift would have ended at 6 a.m. The past practice of leaving work early for those who fill in for the radio operator has ended.
“I’m extremely disappointed,” Hughes said at a news conference Wednesday, adding that what Brindisi and Price did cannot be justified. “It’s a big drop in trust, not just for me but the public.”
The mayor, meanwhile, acknowledged that the IAD investigation wasn’t launched until July 9, a day after The Vindicator filed a public records request for 911 Center documents and audio and video recordings.
The newspaper’s review of the material showed the South Side was without adequate police coverage early on June 14.
Williams said once a preliminary report was done, he asked that the events be delved into further, to make sure what happened wasn’t a pervasive activity. He’s satisfied that a polygraph test administered to Butler shows what happened was an isolated incident “as best as we can tell.”
The mayor said he believes the majority of officers are committed to doing a good job, and his administration supports them.
“[I’ve] said that certainly I’m concerned about the recent series of events which has caused us to look at the department from bottom up and top to bottom,” Williams said. “This [investigation] also shows that we want to have internal controls in place to identify when things do go wrong or amiss so we can address them accordingly, and over the next several weeks and months we’re going to make sure that our police department reflects the excellence we want to give the citizens.”
Williams said Capt. Mike Vodilko, the supervisor working the overnight shift June 14, received a written reprimand for handling the matter on his own by splitting up the four officers involved. Vodilko did not notify the chief or the IAD of what happened, the mayor said.
“The captain was well within his scope of responsibilities to do [what he did] but incidents of that magnitude, while he pursues it and gathers information, should be reported to the chief and internal affairs,” the mayor said.
Hughes said Vodilko’s investigation was ongoing when internal affairs stepped in.
Changes since the officers’ actions came to light include the overnight radio operator at the 911 Center checking in hourly with every car on the road, Hughes said. Policies already in place, he said, are being reinforced.