Village of Put-in-Bay
Fearing retaliation on Put-in-Bay
Jul 27, 2014 at 2:34 AM
The Register should have been paying closer attention years ago.
According to officials at the Put-in-Bay Resort, the hotel and its staff have long been harassed by island police, ever since the owner and Chief Ric Lampela had a disagreement about the village's noise ordinance years ago.
There have been times when police officers arrived at the hotel and simply stood intimidatingly in the lobby or in other areas of the hotel, as if they were sentries with no business to attend to and nothing to do.
The harassment became so pronounced, the owners purchased and installed sophisticated surveillance equipment to protect the hotel and its employees from police.
To protect themselves.
The very fact a business owner made the allegation of police harassment represents a breakdown in leadership, and questions, naturally get directed to Lampela and island Mayor Margaret Scarpelli.
Scarpelli has spent the last 10 months playing dumb to the problems that have been brought to her attention.
But after weeks of silence, Lampela faced his critics Thursday evening in a heated town forum, where the chief minimized the concerns from residents and frequently blamed the Sandusky Register for its reporting.
One of Lampela's biggest critics at Thursday's forum was one of his own, however, a former police chief and a longtime police academy instructor. Scott Bellinger hammered Lampela from the start of the forum.
“Why are there so many people who fear the police department?” he asked. “They fear they will be retaliated against if they speak out.”
Lampela's responses during the two-hour forum did nothing to quell concerns with his leadership or tamp down questions whether he understands the role and responsibilities of being police chief.
His demeanor came off as a dangerous combination of Deputy Barney Fife from the “Andy Griffith” TV show, and Boss Hog from the “Dukes of Hazard.”
The chief, who plays it cute and coy with Register reporter Alex Green, said the Register misreported previously that he's refused to comment on recent controversies involving the police department.
He later acknowledged the practice when questioned by Green after the forum.
“Why do you think I haven't been commenting to the Sandusky Register?” he asked, adding sarcastically, “You're a pretty good investigator.”
The chief should save the back-handed compliments — or whatever that comment represents — and answer his critics. It's arrogant and demeaning to refuse to answer them.
Just two days before his forum, Lampela asked Village Council to appoint veteran PIB police officer Steven Korossy to the top of the police department's chain of command.
“I (recommend) you hire him as a lieutenant for $50,000 a year,” Lampela told Council members. “To fix things that appear to be wrong with the police department.”
It would seem reasonable residents would expect it was Lampela's job to address those problems, and appointing Korossy to a command position won't do that.
Korossy appears qualified for a leadership role, but he's also a central character in one big cluster of problems it appears he created last year when he initiated an investigation into the termination of an employee at the Put-in-Bay Resort.
Obstruction charges filed against one employee already have been dismissed but the same charge against a second one remains pending in Ottawa Municipal Court.
And it's still not clear what prompted the investigation. It's also not clear whether it was a lawful probe.
“I'm not going to comment on cases that haven't been adjudicated,” Lampela said during the forum, prompting an exasperated sigh from some in attendance.
What would prompt a police investigation immediately after a private business fires an employee? Why would police demand the fired employee be immediately given her final paycheck?
Hotel officials have speculated it was personal: The fired employee was the girlfriend of a police officer.
Lampela won't say.
A day before those arrests, Korossy and other PIB police officers launched an investigation into a parking citation issued for a golf cart. They arrested the hotel's general manager and charged her with obstruction when she couldn't immediately give them a printout of the rental contract for the golf cart.
That case also remains pending in Ottawa Municipal Court, as police and County Prosecutor Mark Mulligan scramble for some elusive plausible explanation.
It's the surveillance equipment — not police — that is protecting and serving the hotel's employees against false arrest.
The video from the hotel's security cameras tells the story of those arrests that Lampela doesn't want told. Clearly, the police overstepped their authority in making the arrests at the hotel, but the bigger problem is Lampela and his officers don't appear to understand the boundaries.
Rapes and druggings go misreported and un-investigated on the island while police investigate the firing of a hotel employee and a parking citation, arresting three uninvolved people without any suggestion that any criminal violations occurred.
It will get worse and might never get better if Village Council — and the mayor — continue looking away.
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