Black eye for sheriff’s office

On the side

It’s a start: At least Youngs-town council members are talking about redistricting the city’s seven wards.

The members met June 24 for an initial discussion with plans to talk about it again though another meeting has yet to be scheduled.

The population in the seven wards range from 7,227 to 12,130. Redistricting hasn’t been done in Youngstown since the early 1980s.

Who will draw ward boundaries is a key issue as is getting enough members of council to agree to a new map.

The new lines wouldn’t take effect until the 2015 election so council has time.

But complicating the matter is the Mahoning County Board of Elections wants to reduce the number of precincts in the city for the November election. If council doesn’t redistrict in the next few months, it could impact the county board’s precinct consolidation efforts.

The Mahoning County Sheriff’s Office has a long-standing reputation for corruption.

When you look at the number of deputies, high-level officials and even a few sheriffs indicted — with several convicted — it’s well deserved.

This leads to the latest disgraceful attempted cover-up related to the arrest and subsequent “unarrest” of county Auditor Michael V. Sciortino on suspicion of drunken driving during a May 26 traffic stop in Canfield.

Before going further, it was anonymous tips that led to the Sciortino incident seeing the light of day. It’s fair to conclude that several of those tips came from honest, hard-working members of the sheriff’s department who were disgusted by this incident.

Those tipsters in the department should be commended because they knew this would be another black eye, but understood that’s better than covering up what happened.

Also, Sheriff Jerry Greene was smart enough to have an outside agency, the Summit County Sheriff’s Office, investigate this because an internal one, no matter how objective, would be viewed as a whitewash.

It had to be tough on Greene knowing that T.J. Assion, a longtime friend who actively helped him during last year’s sheriff campaign, was at the center of this scandal.

Assion saw his career skyrocket after the election with Greene promoting him from sergeant to commander. As a result of the investigation, Greene demoted Assion back to sergeant, causing him great embarrassment and a $19,000 annual pay cut. It sent a message, but could have gone further.

Sgt. James Touville, who pulled over Sciortino, gave him a field sobriety test, which he “failed miserably,” investigators said.

After arresting Sciortino for operating a vehicle while impaired, cuffing him and putting him in a patrol car, Touville called his superior who called his superior who called Touville at the scene. That conversation was cut short when Assion, then one of the department’s highest-ranking officials, called Touville, asking if there was another option other than arresting Sciortino for OVI, according to the investigation. Assion showed up a few minutes later and took Sciortino home.

Touville told investigators that he felt he “would suffer backlash from the department the next day for arresting a county official or having that county official possibly test under limit.”

County Democratic Party Chairman David Betras said this incident is “not a systemic problem.”

We can disagree on that, but it’s certainly an institutional problem.

Officers fearing they’ll be punished for doing their job, which has happened in the past, is a very serious problem.

Sciortino broke his silence Wednesday in a prepared statement. He is “deeply regretful for the unfortunate circumstances that evening. I know that I let myself, family, friends, supporters and office down, and for that I am sorry.”

Without acknowledging he may have been driving drunk, Sciortino wrote: “I may often stumble as a human being, but I will never allow an unfortunate distraction like this stand in the way of the job” done at his office.

It should be noted that Sciortino called Maj. Jeffrey Allen a day or two after the incident. Allen told investigators he assumed Sciortino called to thank him because the stop didn’t result in a drunken-driving arrest.

Don't Miss a Story

Sign up for our newsletter to receive daily news directly in your inbox.