Village Council plans to contract an operations assessment of the Put-in-Bay police department, Mayor Margaret Scarpelli said Thursday during a public forum with the police chief.
The decision comes following recent allegations of police harassment from three island business owners.
It also comes as police Chief Ric Lampela and his staff downplayed 15 recent complaints filed with police of suspected druggings on the island.
— PROBLEMS WITH POLICE
"I've heard concerns about the police department," Scarpelli said. "I've lived here all my life. I have great love for this island. So I've talked with Council and we are going to ask (the village law director) to hire a firm to come and do an assessment of the police department and its operations."
Lampela said he was pleased with the decision to ask part-time law director George Wilber to arrange for a professional assessment of the police department.
"When the mayor told me, I could not have been more thrilled," Lampela said. "I can't wait to find out if there can be any improvements, and how we can better serve the community."
But Lampela's critics aren't so happy.
Business owners Dennis Rectenwald and Put-in-Bay Resort owner Mark Mathys questioned whether Wilber would arrange for a legitimate assessment.
Wilber has refused comment and has not responded to complaints from Mathys about alleged ongoing police harassment of the hotel and its employees.
Wilber also has dodged questions from the Register for months, and he generally refuses to provide public comment on public issues.
Rectenwald, who was handcuffed and detained by PIB police officers for about 15 minutes July 11 after a traffic violation, questioned whether the operations assessment would be legitimate.
"Who's going to select this panel to do the research on the department? An independent group?" Rectenwald asked. "Or is it going to be the mayor and the chief?"
Scarpelli responded Wilber would do that work.
Mathys, who contends police made three false arrests of hotel employees in September, also questioned whether the study and the expected expense of it would result in any useful information.
"The Attorney General, the FBI and the Ottawa County sheriff's office would do this for free," Mathys said. "Wouldn't it make sense asking them (to investigate) instead of appropriating $15,000?"
Scarpelli said those options would be considered. She also said the projected $15,000 cost is a starting point for the village.
Another man who attended the forum chimed in, suggesting any assessment will likely be a whitewash.
"What if they find criminal wrongdoing?" he asked. "Do they have the authority, or do they pat everyone on the back and let them go?"
— NOTHING PROVED
Lampela said the police department was taking a pro-active approach to create awareness how visitors can protect themselves from becoming a victim of a drugging, but he emphasized that none of the complaints have been confirmed.
One alleged victim did test positive for a suspected drug that might have been slipped into her drink and caused her to become violently ill and pass out.
Put-in-Bay police Sgt. Steve Korossy said the Benzodiazepine found in the woman's system was not a date rape drug, however, and he used his fingers to denote quotation marks as he called the complaints "alleged druggings."
The woman, however, did not allege she was raped; she suspected she was drugged.
Benzodiazepine is a psychoactive drug used to treat anxiety, insomnia, agitation, seizures and alcohol withdrawal. The woman did not knowingly ingest the drug, according to a police report.
Another woman did report she was raped May 4 after becoming unconscious. She also told a hospital trauma nurse she suspected she'd been drugged. The Ottawa County sheriff's office finished an investigation of that complaint, which has been forwarded to Ottawa County Prosecutor Mark Mulligan.
Put-inBay police inserted false information into the original incident report of the alleged rape, stating the woman did not want to pursue charges.
Five other people reported to police they suspected they were drugged after each of them became unconscious during a visit to the island the same weekend earlier this month.
The alleged rape victim, and most of the other alleged victims were not tested for drugs in their systems.
"The drugs leave the system very quickly," Lampela said during Thursday's forum.
While acknowledging the concern created by the complaints from tourists, Lampela said none of the reports of suspected druggings have been verified.
"We know there have been complaints of druggings and we know they are getting more frequent in the last couple days and none of them have been proven to be a drugging."
It's not clear how that statement is accurate given that one alleged victim did test positive for a drug she did not knowingly ingest.
Lampela does not take questions from the Register during forums, and he generally does not provide responsive replies to telephone calls or written inquiries.
One man at the forum suggested the drugging complaints made to police were being overblown.
"The paper just wants to sell papers, there's worse stuff going on," he said. "You can read the Sandusky Register and it's going to be totally differnt than what you said today."
The forum was videotaped by the Register and everything Lampella and Scarpelli said, and all the questions from people who attended, are available for demand viewing in the frame below.
— FALSE ARRESTS
Lampela continued to dodge questions from Mathys during the forum about the September arrests of three hotel employees.
"What case are you talking about?" the chief responded initially when Mathys again asked him to explain the alleged misconduct of his officers during the arrests.
"The one that's been in the newspaper," Mathys told him. "The one I brought up here at the meeting last week."
After acknowledging awareness of the case, Lampela said he'd 'love to comment' but can't because the case is still being adjudicated.
The case Mathys asked about was dismissed, however, and is not still being adjudicated.
Mathys said Wilber previously instructed Council members and the mayor not to review the audio surveillance from the hotel of the arrests. He again invited village officials to view the video, which he contends clearly show police misconduct in arresting the hotel employees.
All three employees were charged with obstruction, and the video does suggest that no criminal violations occurred prior to the arrests.
Lampela has refused to respond to questions from the Register about the investigations into a parking violation and a civil dispute the hotel had with two former employees that led to the arrests, and the lawfulness of the actions against the employees.
The charge against one employee was dismissed, but the other two are awaiting trial in Ottawa County Municipal Court.
The hotel wants Ottawa County Prosecutor Mark Mulligan to dismiss the remaining charges.
Mulligan, who allegedly consulted with police just prior to the arrests, has refused to comment and has said he is unfamiliar with the pending cases.