Calif. author pens books about Warren, Steubenville police misconduct
By Ed Runyan
Earlier this month, 40 copies of “Blue Mafia, Police Brutality & Consent Decrees in Ohio,” a self-published book by Tim Tolka of California, were delivered to the home of former Warren Safety Service Director Fred Harris.
The 292-page book, Tolka’s first, (search “blue+mafia+police” on Amazon.com) is about police misconduct in Warren and Steubenville.
Tolka said he was interested in the topic because Warren and Steubenville are small towns forced to change their policies and procedures under supervision of the U.S. Department of Justice through consent decrees, which are legal agreements.
Steubenville signed its decree in 1997 and was deemed in full compliance in 2005.
Warren’s decree was signed in 2012 after years of Justice Department investigation, and the police department was deemed in full compliance in April 2017.
“I got interested in this story because I realized that people in Warren and Steubenville don’t know much [about the investigations],” Tolka said in a YouTube video promoting the book.
Tolka said he also wrote about Warren and Steubenville to provide “a complete record that condenses the whole story.”
One of the key events leading to Warren’s consent decree was the videotaped arrest of Lyndal Kimble Sr. of Warren in the summer of 2003. The video shows officers using extreme force to arrest Kimble. Not long after the video made national news, a practice of routinely strip-searching citizens by some Warren police officers came to light.
Among the many changes demanded by the Justice Department were new guidelines for strip searches. The police department also overhauled its citizen-complaint procedures and put dash cameras in police cruisers.
Harris, because of his efforts to expose and change the police department under former chief John Mandopoulos, is among the key figures in the book. Harris is black; Mandopolos, who died in 2012, was white.
In an interview with The Vindicator recently, Harris said excessive use of force, improper strip searches and other incidents were confined to a small percentage of officers.
“I don’t really blame those guys,” Harris said of officers. “I blame [Mandopoulos]. It’s like a snake. What the head does, the body follows. Mando was old-style. It was his way or the highway. They were his cops. He protected them at all costs.”
Mandopoulos was forced to retire under pressure from city officials in 2009.
Another key figure is Richard Olivito, a Steubenville native who met with the Justice Department in 1995 and urged it to investigate the Steubenville Police Department. Olivito, Harris and others did the same thing in Warren after the Kimble arrest. Olivito’s Ohio law license was suspended in 2007 and was never reinstated.
The book tells the history of Warren police reforms, which former Warren police Chief Tim Bowers acknowledged in a story in The Vindicator several years ago were needed to rid the city of “unconstitutional policing.”
The book has numerous footnotes indicating information Tolka took from local news media reporting. But some citations are inaccurate.
One passage tells of the shooting death of Taemarr Walker, 24, who was black, by white police officer Mike Krafcik in 2013.
Tolka writes that Krafcik killed Walker “because [Krafcik] thought [Walker] was reaching for a rifle in the back seat” of his vehicle. The Vindicator article cited, however, says the moment that cost Walker his life was his reaching under the driver’s seat and pulling out a handgun.
The Vindicator’s source for the information was a document released by the Trumbull County Prosecutor’s Office after Krafcik was cleared of any criminal wrongdoing.
When asked about it, Tolka called it an error on his part and said he “revised the account considerably” for the next edition, to be available as an ebook.
Tolka did not use the real names of numerous individuals, including Krafcik. Tolka said the names were changed “with the hope of protecting victims and innocents, as well as family members of alleged perpetrators.”
Warren Police Chief Eric Merkel said he had not read the book.