Gov. Ted Strickland has called for the firing of two troopers involved in a KKK prank at the Sandusky post of the Ohio State Highway Patrol.
Strickland made the decision after a Monday meeting to discuss the incident with patrol superintendent Col. Richard Collins and Henry Guzman, director of the Ohio Department of Public Safety.
"The incident has tarnished the reputation of a great law enforcement agency," Strickland said in a press release. "We can not and will not tolerate this kind of insulting, disgraceful conduct which undermines public confidence in the important work that the patrol does every day."
According to a press release from the Ohio Department of Public Safety: "The governor ... asked Director Guzman and Col. Collins to immediately begin proceedings to terminate the employment of the trooper and sergeant involved."
Guzman is a member of the governor's cabinet, and the highway patrol falls under the umbrella of his department.
Collins, who originally recommended the termination of the two troopers, backed the governor's decision.
"The governor is my boss, so the governor can direct me to do things that he feels are appropriate," Collins said by phone Tuesday. "We discussed this yesterday in a meeting ... and he was in agreement that the officers should be terminated. But he had a concern about the abeyance agreement or the last chance agreement, and he slept on it and contacted me this morning and felt this act was so egregious that the abeyance agreement should not have been put in place and rescinded that."
Sergeant Eric E. Wlodarsky and Trooper Craig Franklin were disciplined, but not fired, for their roles in the KKK prank. The two kept their jobs because of the collective bargaining agreement, which provided the troopers with an abeyance agreement. The two were allowed to remain troopers as long as they did not get into any more trouble during the next two years.
The union called the governor's decision a "blatant breach of contract."
Elaine Silveria, assistant general counsel for the Ohio State Troopers Association, said the union had an agreement that kept the troopers from being fired.
"We had a signed agreement, and the governor has no authority to do what he did," Silveria said.
Wlodarsky and Franklin are scheduled for a pre-disciplinary hearing Tuesday, she said.
"If at that point the employer decides to go through with the grievance, we'll prosecute the grievance."
Franklin dressed up in KKK-like garb and Wlodarsky snapped his picture with a camera phone while the two were on duty at the Sandusky post the day before the national holiday honoring Martin Luther King Jr. They said it was a joke, modeled after a skit by comedian Dave Chappelle.
Franklin was originally given a five-day unpaid suspension. Wlodarsky was demoted from sergeant to trooper and transferred to another post. Both were ordered to attend diversity awareness training.
The Sandusky chapter of the NAACP called for termination of the two troopers during a meeting Friday with Collins.
Investigators learned about the photo when they received a copy of it along with an unsigned letter that read: "Sergeant Wlodarsky on duty at the Sandusky Post on January 20, 2008. What a way to represent the Ohio State Highway Patrol!"
Wlodarsky sent the picture to another trooper, Jason P. Demuth, who was also disciplined for not reporting the incident to a supervisor.
Wlodarsky and Franklin learned of the governor's decision Tuesday morning. They were placed on administrative leave pending the disciplinary process for termination.
Wlodarsky told investigators he was "counseled previously for racial gesture or slurs."
The Register broke the story that has since been covered by several national news organizations. Strickland was aware of the media coverage of the incident, but his spokesman said that had nothing to do with his decision to order Collins and Guzman to begin the termination process for the two troopers.
"The governor was aware of the work your newspaper had done, and there had been other reports written," said Keith Dailey, Strickland's press secretary. "But again his fundamental concern was not taking definitive disciplinary action undermines public confidence in the highway patrol."