WESTERHOLD: Baxter needs integrity probe

Fired Sandusky police Chief Kim Nuesse's civil service hearing is a dog-and-pony show costing taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dol
Matt Westerhold
May 24, 2010

Fired Sandusky police Chief Kim Nuesse's civil service hearing is a dog-and-pony show costing taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars. Erie County prosecutor Kevin Baxter is the dog, and retired judge Joseph Cirigliano is the pony.

There are so many aspects of this hearing that need to be explored, beginning with the statement Baxter gave to the Murman investigators. The good prosecutor acknowledged 11 "inaccuracies" after the Register began questioning him about discrepancies in his statement back in June. He likely never would have scurried back to make the corrections if the newspaper had not called him out, because nobody would have known how much Baxter got wrong in the story he told.

And the corrections aren't really corrections. Baxter just scratched out some information and scribbled some notes in the margins of the report, in an incredibly unprofessional manner. And the inaccuracies -- as Baxter calls them -- aren't really inaccuracies; they are straight out lies. If you ask me.

Let's try to take a look-see

Baxter detailed a meeting he had with Nuesse, then-U.S. attorney Greg White, U.S. Marshal Pete Elliott and local law enforcement officials. He said he, White and Elliott educated Chief Nuesse on proper procedures during that meeting, but other meeting participants offered starkly different recollections. The Murman investigators did not bother to interview some of those witnesses to get an accurate description of the meeting, but we did.

Elliott told the Register Nuesse was not the target of that meeting. "We met so we could better coordinate our efforts," he said. "We wanted to find a way to do things better, and we accomplished that goal."

Oops. Baxter scratched that part of his statement, correcting his "inaccuracy."

Baxter told the Murman investigators that assistant county prosecutor Mary Ann Barylski was the gang expert in Erie County, even though he adamantly maintains there is no gang problem. But when the Register asked what qualified Barylski as the expert, whether she ever filed a court case with gang specification charges, or whether she had any other credentials that would qualify her as an expert, Baxter did not respond.

Oops. Baxter scratched that part of his statement, correcting his "inaccuracy."

Baxter said he never talked with Nuesse about whether youth violence in the county was gang-related. Oops. Erie County Juvenile Court Judge Robert Delamatre and Sandusky High School principal Dan Poggiali both testified Baxter attended a meeting where the topic was discussed. The results of the meeting were good.

"We changed some procedures, and the changes we made were effective," Delamatre told the Register in June.

Oops. Not sure whether Baxter included this one in the incomprehensible "scratch it out and scribble" corrections he made to the Murman report.

But now Baxter says he wasn't even at the meeting. He said Delamatre, who testified about the meeting at last week's hearing, "must be confused." The judge is mis-remembering, according to Baxter -- which means former Sandusky Schools assistant superintendent John Kaszonyi must be confused as well, because he testified about the meeting and said Baxter attended.

Baxter called reporter Jason Singer on Thursday and offered evidence he said was proof positive he wasn't at the meeting in question: A receipt from a Columbus hotel bearing the date of the meeting, Nov. 30. Baxter said he couldn't possibly have been at that meeting, and the receipt proved that.

Friday, he had the city's legal team introduce the receipt as evidence at the Civil Service hearing.

We checked. Baxter registered at the hotel at 4:45 p.m. that day. The meeting took place early that morning. That's one shoddy standard of evidence.

Dogging on Nuesse

Baxter said Nuesse told Delamatre she wanted to use the Sandusky Police Department's canine unit to conduct surprise searches for weapons at Sandusky High School. That's not what Delamatre testified to, however, and there was no SPD canine unit at that time.

Oops and oops.

Baxter testified he made the corrections to the Murman report because he wanted to "help Kim Nuesse" and make sure whatever decision city manager Matt Kline made about Nuesse's employment was based on the best, most accurate information.

Whew. That's rich. He wanted to help Nuesse, he said, so he made incomprehensible corrections. Less than 10 days later he advised Kline that Nuesse should be fired for her lack of integrity and her inability to get along with him and play nice.

Baxter's problem here, in my opinion, is that he lied to the Murman investigators, which resulted in his inaccurate statement. He never expected anyone to challenge him, and he never expected the newspaper would so aggressively pursue the truth.

When he testified at the hearing last month, he said there were 11 inaccuracies in the statement but under cross-examination by Nuesse's attorney, K. Ronald Bailey, he acknowledged additional "discrepancies."

I wish I could list each and every one of them here for you, but the corrections are incomprehensible ... just incredibly unprofessional scratch-outs and notes in the margins.

And I wish I could provide more information from his testimony, but Baxter refused to allow it to be videotaped, and Cirigliano -- without explanation -- ordered that the Register's microphone be moved away from Baxter before he began his testimony. That rendered the audiotape of his testimony difficult to hear and difficult to understand.

Man, this is one slippery dude

In most parts of the state, giving false statements to an investigator is illegal under the Ohio Revised Code. That state law does not appear to apply in Erie County, however, because not a single public official has expressed outrage concerning Baxter's "inaccurate" statements.

I have concerns.

It's troubling when the de-facto top law enforcement officer in the county is not held accountable for misstatements and falsifications. He should be. Baxter should be forced to thoroughly explain how he could get so much so wrong. An independent prosecutor should be named "to help Kevin" explain and to determine whether Baxter should be charged.

This independent prosecutor also should review whether Baxter committed a crime when he changed the Murman report. Witnesses -- and that is Kevin's only official role here -- do not have the option to change their statements after the fact. They can confer with the investigators and ask for corrections, or write an addendum and ask that it be added to the file, but they do not have access to simply change an investigative report.

Kevin's effort to correct the record could be the only time a witness was ever given that kind of carte blanche freedom to backtrack.

What's good for the gander should be good for the goose. It's an integrity probe, after all. Kim Nuesse has met the standard. Kevin Baxter has not.

And there, you have it.