By SAMANTHA PHILLIPs
A state ceremony to honor late Girard Police Officer Justin Leo was more revealing than some officials probably had planned.
State Sen. Sean O’Brien acknowledged during a live broadcast Wednesday of the Senate session, where he presented the resolution to honor Leo, that it was Officer Mat Jamison who was Leo’s partner that October night.
The identity of Leo’s partner who responded to a domestic violence call with him Oct. 21 has been kept under wraps as the incident was investigated by the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation and then turned over to Trumbull County Prosecutor Dennis Watkins on Feb. 3.
Jason Marble shot Leo in the chest, and Leo’s partner returned fire and killed Marble.
The revelation came at the culmination of an emotional day. The Leo family, Girard Mayor James Melfi, police Chief John Norman and Jamison attended the presentation.
Melfi told The Vindicator after the presentation, “It was an honor for the Leo family to be in Columbus today in front of the House and Senate, honoring their son, Justin Leo. It was a day to reflect on the sacrifices this young man made, and it was evident that his sacrifice was appreciated by both the state House and the Senate.”
David Leo, Justin’s father, thanked all the law-enforcement officers and everyone who kept his family in their thoughts and prayers.
“Our community, over the last months, has shown us so much love and appreciation. Everyday they support us. As I said, when we sent our son to work everyday, I would always tell him to make good choices, brush your teeth and be safe,” David Leo said.
O’Brien of Bazetta, D-32nd, acknowledged he didn’t speak to Watkins or Girard officials about whether to recognize Jamison.
“We didn’t talk about [the investigation] and we didn’t disclose anything besides that he was his partner on the scene. ... I haven’t talked to Dennis Watkins about the investigation, but from what we are able to learn, we thought it was appropriate to recognize [Jamison] as a hero; he was there in Leo’s final moments.”
During the presentation, O’Brien said, “Due to his heroic actions that day, he [Jamison] saved countless lives and put a stop to the domestic violence.”
Watkins told The Vindicator in February he had to review all the BCI findings on the incident before disclosing the partner’s name or any new details on the case.
Seven weeks later, the case is still under review.
Watkins was not at his office Wednesday, and The Vindicator was unable to reach him to comment.
O’Brien presented the resolution before the Senate.
He spoke about Leo’s role in the community as a coach and umpire for young basketball and baseball players. Leo served the Girard Police Department for five years and also had served with the Mahoning County Sheriff’s Office and the Vienna Police Department.
O’Brien said he and state Rep. Glenn Holmes of McDonald, D-63rd, drafted the legislation. Holmes presented the legislation in the House.
“It was just something we were trying to do to bring some solace and comfort to the family, although it’s a small token, it’s something they can have so they can understand the community and the state appreciates the sacrifice their son made,” O’Brien said.
“Girard was my hometown, and the Leo family, the dad being a principal and the mom being a school teacher, and Justin being involved in the community, you name it, they were doing it. For Justin to give the ultimate sacrifice, I thought it was noteworthy,” Holmes said. The House version of the resolution was House Bill 251.
David Leo said many lawmakers spoke with him and his wife, Pat, and one relayed that he had a 30-year-old son who is a policeman, so Justin’s story hit him.
Also on Wednesday, the Youngstown Phantoms hockey team selected Justin Leo as this year’s Hometown Hero.
The team will host its Hometown Hero game at 7:05 p.m. April 7 at the Covelli Centre on Front Street.
Four dollars from each ticket will go to the National Association of the Wolves Trumbull County chapter scholarship fund, which will award four Girard students in May with $5,000 scholarships in Justin’s memory. Pat and David Leo will drop the puck for the event, and a montage celebrating Justin will be presented.