State Trooper admits to being accused of racial comments before

SANDUSKY One of the Ohio State Highway Patrol troopers involved in a KKK prank said he is not a raci
Sandusky Register Staff
May 24, 2010

 

SANDUSKY

One of the Ohio State Highway Patrol troopers involved in a KKK prank said he is not a racist, but admitted he was "counseled previously for racial gestures or slurs."

Trooper Eric E. Wlodarsky admitted he snapped a photo of Trooper Craig T. Franklin, who was wearing KKK-like garb, while both were on duty at the Sandusky post Jan. 20 -- just one day before Martin Luther King Day. Wlodarsky then forwarded the photo, which he took with a cell phone camera, to Sgt. Jason P. Demuth.

Wlodarsky and Franklin have both said the incident was meant as a joke and inspired by a skit by comedian Dave Chappelle.

"It's given the highway patrol a black eye," Wlodarsky said. "The punishment we suffered is more than anyone expected."

Wlodarsky and Franklin were both recommended for termination by Henry Guzman, the state's director of public safety, but remain on the job because of a collective bargaining agreement.

Wlodarsky was demoted from sergeant to trooper, was transferred to the Norwalk post, can never be assigned to the Sandusky post and must attend diversity awareness training.

Franklin received a five-day unpaid suspension and was ordered to seek diversity awareness training. Demuth was suspended for one day.

"For me to take a demotion is a huge pay cut," Wlodarsky said. "I've suffered thousands over the next several years."

Wlodarsky estimated the pay cut will cost him about $12,000 a year.

Wlodarsky denied being a racist, saying if he were it would have come out in the psychological tests he was given before becoming a trooper.

"I hold nothing against any race," Wlodarsky said.

An audio recording from the investigation into the photo revealed Wlodarsky was counseled for an incident that occurred while he was assigned to the Mansfield post in 2006.

Wlodarsky's counseling stemmed from an administrative investigation conducted by the patrol last summer after another trooper made several allegations about the patrol.

The trooper claimed that in November 2006 Wlodarsky failed to respond for back-up on a traffic stop of a car carrying a group of black males -- and instead went to deliver Cleveland Browns tickets to an off-duty trooper.

The trooper said that when he phoned Wlodarsky to ask why he did not respond, Wlodarsky told him: "We can't send an officer to back up another every time we stop a carload of niggers. What would the motoring public think?"

The call was made from a non-recorded line at the Mansfield post to Wlodarsky's cell phone, according to the investigation.

The trooper who made the allegations told the Register he has since been fired for untruthfulness.

Wlodarsky made a similar comment to a dispatcher, but did not use the n-word, the dispatcher said.

During an administrative investigation in July 2007, Wlodarsky admitted making the comment to a dispatcher, but said he did not use the n-word.

"He said used the word 'blacks' and is very conscious to use not to use the other word, although he does say it. Sgt. Wlodarsky said there were no witnesses to this conversation," according to the administrative investigation filed by Sgt. Jeffrey P. Bernard.

On Tuesday, Wlodarsky again admitted to making comments about not responding to traffic stops for blacks, but said he never used any insensitive racial language. He said the comment was not made in a hostile or derogatory manner.

"He said I made them in a demeaning matter. I didn't. I was repeating what someone else said, and the fact of the matter was I said them," Wlodarsky said.

Joshua Engel, chief legal counsel for the Department of Public Safety, said he was aware Wlodarsky had received previous counseling as a result of information uncovered in administrative investigation.

"It's sort of a talking to," Engel said of the counseling. "They don't get put in the personnel file. It's not considered a formal discipline."

Wlodarsky was counseled by Capt. Herbert B. Homan, the District 2 commander, according to the administrative investigation.

"They told me to watch what I say, to be careful with the words I use, my choice of words," Wlodarsky said Monday.

The Sandusky chapter of the NAACP has yet to comment. Ida Alexander, the chapter's president, said Monday she would issue a statement on Tuesday. However, when reached Tuesday she said she was in a meeting.

A national NAACP spokesman did comment Tuesday.

"As public servants and officers of authority, we expect better of them -- their training should reflect better," communications director Richard McIntire said. "If we are ever to become a more tolerant, progressive nation, everyone must understand that some antics are simply not funny, are insensitive and unacceptable. Reprimands were in order."

Wlodarsky said he regrets taking the photo and is ready to move past the incident.

"In our eyes, the highway patrol and the three troopers just wish this would be over," he said.