Court rules commander didn’t discriminate against black state trooper

By Ed Runyan


The Ohio Court of Claims has ruled that former Ohio State Highway Patrol trooper Willie Smith Jr. failed to prove that the former commander of the Southington post discriminated against him because of his race.

Judge Alan C. Travis issued the decision Nov. 19 in a complaint Smith filed against Lt. Joseph Dragovich and other officials.

Smith, of Newton Falls, filed the complaint July 14, 2009, 21 months after being fired for dishonesty Oct. 16, 2007.

The ruling says Smith first went to work for the highway patrol in April 1998 and was assigned to the Southington post in June 1999 under the supervision of Dragovich. Smith is black; Dragovich is white.

In July 2000, Smith was fired for “conduct unbecoming an officer” after being accused of making threatening and intimidating remarks to coworkers and the public, but the firing was overturned in 2001 after Smith filed a discrimination charge with the Ohio Civil Rights Commission.

Dragovich was transferred to the Lisbon post in 2003, and Smith had “no major disciplinary issues,” the ruling said.

Dragovich returned to the Southington post in April 2005. Smith returned from a medical leave in April 2006 and filed a discrimination complaint against Dragovich in September 2006, but the investigation turned up no evidence of racial discrimination.

In May 2007, administrative investigations of Smith were conducted regarding three violations of departmental policy in two months and lies he told about the violations. Smith was fired the following October.

The court ruled that “although [Smith] asserts that Lt. Dragovich’s animosity toward him was based upon his race, the court finds that [Smith] has failed to prove” that Dragovich had discriminatory reasons for firing Smith.

Dragovich is now commander of the Lisbon post.

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