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Friday, June 14th, 2013

Slusser terminated; attorney says chief committed no wrongdoing

By William Kincaid
CELINA - City administrators fired suspended police chief Dave Slusser Thursday after finding him guilty of numerous misconduct violations.
However, an attorney for Slusser said his client has done no wrong and is the victim of a political witch hunt. He will appeal the termination to the local civil service commission and seek private litigation against the city and certain city officials in their personal and professional capacity.
   Slusser, who was served the notice by interim police chief Cal Freeman and Pat Hire of human resource consultant Clemans-Nelson and Associates, will be terminated as police chief effective 5 p.m. today.
"(Termination) was from administration based on recommendations from Clemans-Nelson," Celina Mayor Jeff Hazel told the newspaper Thursday.
Hazel would not comment further.
"Because of the seriousness of the violations and the damage it has done to the public's trust of the City of Celina Police Department, your employment cannot be continued," safety service director Tom Hitchcock wrote in the notice to Slusser.
Attorney Nicholas Yaeger said Slusser will exercise every right available to him under the law. Facts and evidence will become public, demonstrating that Slusser has committed no wrongdoing and should have not been terminated, he told the newspaper.
"We are disheartened and disappointed the city would take such punitive action towards a man that dedicated over 35 years of his life protecting and supporting the citizens of Celina," Yaeger wrote in a statement to the newspaper. "This entire matter stems from a political vendetta against Chief Slusser by the current city administration.
  "The city placed Chief Slusser on administrative leave without any support for doing so and then turned this case into a political witch hunt in an attempt to gather facts to justify actions the city had already taken without performing any meaningful investigation," Yaeger continued.
Slusser's pension is not at risk because he was not convicted of a criminal offense, Hazel said.
He has 10 days to appeal his termination to the city civil service commission comprised of Matt Gilmore, Denny Smith and Janet Smith.
A civil service test will be administered to police personnel soon to determine the next police chief. In the meantime, Freeman will continue acting as interim police chief, Hazel said.
Freeman, as well as Sgts. James Stelzer, Thomas Wale and Kent Taylor are eligible to take the test, according to Hazel.
Slusser had been on paid administrative leave since Feb. 14 and faced accusations of improperly handling evidence, falsifying official time sheets, retaining a pistol he was only to keep for a two-week test and evaluation, failing to properly process an envelope of evidence and leaving sensitive data on computers given to city council members.
"Your actions and behavior constitute conduct unbecoming an officer, insubordination, incompetency, neglect of duty, dishonesty, and failure of good behavior, misfeasance, malfeasance, and nonfeasance and violation of the employer's policies and procedures," Hitchcock wrote in the termination notice.
Slusser had waived his right to a predisciplinary hearing scheduled for Wednesday morning, where he could have defended himself against the misconduct allegations.
"Since you voluntarily waived your right to a predisciplinary conference, no defense witnesses or evidence has been presented by you in relation to the specific allegations of misconduct listed in the notice of predisciplinary conference," Hitchcock wrote. "Therefore, all the pertinent evidence, including verbal and written statements given by you throughout the course of the investigation, and the charges as listed ... have been reviewed and considered prior to the issuance of discipline. At this point, it appears that the basic facts of this case have not been disputed by you, and in fact, have been agreed to by you."
Slusser was found guilty by Hitchcock of five instances of alleged inappropriate behavior.
• A victim of domestic violence gave a prescription bottle with Xanax to the police department on or about Nov. 12, 2012, while making an official complaint. Slusser allegedly took possession of the prescription narcotic after the suspect requested the return of the medicine.
"There is no dispute that you took possession of prescribed medication related to a domestic violence complaint," Hitchcock wrote. "You have agreed that you did not process the medication into evidence, did not document your involvement until after you lost the medication and that you have no idea where the medication is currently. You have given multiple stories regarding what you did with the medication."
Department procedures do not authorize throwing any type of property or drugs into the trash as a proper method of destruction.
• Several official time sheets were allegedly falsified by Slusser during the last quarter of 2010.
"You have admitted that you, in fact, did alter the times sheets of employees so that specified public funds could be used to pay employees," Hitchcock wrote. "You have also admitted that you did not take action to verify that the applicable employee actually performed the duties required by ordinance to qualify for payment from the specified public funds."
• Slusser also allegedly kept a .380 pistol manufactured by North American Arms, as well as two extra magazines, a gun lock, nylon case and instruction manual, that was shipped to him on or about Oct. 16, 2001, for the purpose of a two-week test and evaluation.
"This was sent to you in 2001," Hitchcock wrote. "You have had the gun store's property for over a decade without their permission."
• Slusser also is accused of failing to process evidence. On or about April 24, 2013, an evidence envelope dated Aug. 17, 2004, containing blood stain evidence, blades and edged weapons, was allegedly found in his office desk drawer.
"Obviously, your desk is not where official evidence is to be kept according to police department written procedures," Hitchcock wrote. "How long would the gun and the evidence discussed above have remained in your desk had the police department move (to the former First National Bank building) not occurred?"
• Slusser allegedly failed to execute an order by Hitchcock to wipe clean of information- data, files, pictures, etc. - two laptops that were to be given to city council members.
Those council members returned the laptops on or about May 10, 2013.
"One of these folders contained pictures of a male juvenile (from a prior child abuse investigation conducted by the police department) in various stages of undress... The public must be able to trust that the City of Celina Police Department not only handles evidence properly, but also that the identity of juvenile victims will be protected," Hitchcock wrote.
The investigation into the alleged misconduct was drawn-out for months because the city followed through with due process, according to Pat Hire, a regional manager for Clemans-Nelson who told the newspaper in March that the city was honoring its obligations to the law and proceeding in a thorough fashion to give Slusser all the right opportunities - a process that takes longer in the public sector as the chief is considered a classified civil servant under Ohio Revised Code.
Slusser's personnel file includes multiple criticisms for job performance and he has previously been suspended in the past.
Slusser joined the city police force in 1978 and he was promoted from sergeant to police chief on June 3, 1991, after achieving the highest score on a civil service test, according to the file.
Slusser's current salary was maxed out at $71,075 a year.
Additional online story on this date
It's still several weeks before the start of the 2013 high school football season but Celina head coach Jared Rolfes and the rest of the Bulldogs' coaching staff are still working with a contingent of standout players from the 2012 campaign. [More]
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