Baxter's credibility attacked at Nuesse hearing

SANDUSKY It was a brief but eventful day at the Kim Nuesse Civil Service hearing. A high-rank
jasonsinger
May 24, 2010

SANDUSKY

It was a brief but eventful day at the Kim Nuesse Civil Service hearing.

A high-ranking undercover narcotics agent from the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation & Identification testified about Erie County prosecutor Kevin Baxter's alleged cocaine use.

The testimony at Thursday's hearing was meant to rebut earlier testimony from Baxter.

According to a document from the bureau, which was presented as evidence at the hearing, the government had a  witness "who provided reliable information regarding the subject's drug use." But since the witness could only testify to cocaine use from several years ago, the government chose not to press charges, the document said.

Judge Joseph Cirigliano, however, ruled the testimony and documents were to be stricken from the record, because there were questions about whether they were public information.

According to the undercover agent's attorney, who was present at the hearing, the documents were not public information because the government never filed charges.

Nuesse's attorney, K. Ronald Bailey, argued Baxter waived privacy privileges in his earlier testimony, when he admitted -- in a public hearing -- that he was investigated.

Holly Hollingsworth, a spokeswoman from the Ohio Attorney General's office, said it would take at least three days to confirm whether or not the documents were public record.

Cirigliano ruled in the city's favor.

The Register also tried to obtain a transcript of Baxter's testimony to see if Baxter's testimony matched up with the bureau's recollection.

Bailey said he believed Baxter -- while under oath -- said the drug-abuse allegations were unfounded. "As far as I remember, that's how Baxter played it off," he said.

But Cirigliano said only the lawyers, not a reporter, could order those transcripts.

Tim Smith, a public records expert and chairman of the Media Law Center at Kent State University, said Cirigliano is "absolutely wrong."

"In a public hearing, if there is a public record, you are entitled to it," Smith said.

Cirigliano also said he didn't need to give an explanation why the Register couldn't order transcripts.

But Smith said Ohio Law requires Cirigliano to give an explanation -- in writing.

"You can ask (for an explanation), but I'm not going to give it you," Cirigliano said.

When asked for comment about the allegations, Baxter characterized them as "old and false allegations made about me by convicted criminal defendants."

In other testimony, the undercover agent said he worked well with Nuesse, and "she was trying to make the community a safer place."

The city also called its first rebuttal witnesses Thursday, including Cedar Point police Chief Ray Majoy.

Last month, investigator Michael Murman said he considered having Nuesse prosecuted for accepting Cedar Point and Soak City tickets from an "inferior officer" like Majoy.

Majoy confirmed he was legally inferior to Nuesse because the Cedar Point Police Department is considered part of the city and Nuesse was the top officer in the city. But he also said he doesn't think he did anything unethical. He said he has let other officers into Cedar Point for free.

Sandusky police Lt. Chris Hofacker also testified for the city. He said Nuesse asked him to tape record a conversation with city manager Matt Kline shortly before she was placed on administrative leave, which made Hofacker uncomfortable.

Furthermore, he thought Nuesse told officers not to park in the circle in front of the police department, and later she went back on that directive.

"(But) I'm not going to say she was lying," Hofacker said.

Asked by Bailey if there was possibly a misunderstanding, Hofacker said: "I would say yes, because we're all human."

City commissioner Julie Farrar was the final rebuttal witness for the city. She said fellow commissioner Brett Fuqua, who was the police liaison, told her the city's dispatch was "on the verge of not working" when she joined the commission in January 2008.

She said she wouldn't have gone to Perkins Township in February and asked the trustees to partner with Sandusky unless she thought it was an emergency.

In cross-examination, Bailey asked her about the events that followed city commissioner Brian Crandall's questioning of Nuesse at the firehouse.

After that meeting, commissioners Crandall, Dennis Murray Jr. and Craig Stahl announced the city would no longer pursue a joint dispatch system with Perkins Township.

Bailey asked how three city commissioners could decide what the city will do without the other four commissioners being present or giving input.

"I'm not sure," Farrar said. "I can't answer that."

Editor's Note: This story was corrected after original publication. The document from the state's Bureau of Criminal Identification & Investigation, which was not available at the time of publication, states the following:

(Special Agent) Dendinger has joined the investigation and is conducting further interviews of more alleged witnesses to illegal drug activity. Krista Harris, who claimed to have indictable information against the subject, has failed to cooperate fully with agents and has been considered to be unreliable.

"To date, only one witness of the myriad names provided to investigators has provided reliable information regarding the subject's drug use. The information, however, is about cocaine usage five years or more ago and is not sufficient for probable cause.

"Follow up: Further interviews of alleged witnesses to whom agents have been referred."