Silence is as silence does

Matt Westerhold
May 18, 2014

The list gets longer.

•Huron County Sheriff Dane Howard, chief Deputy Ted Patrick.

•Ottawa County Prosecutor Mark Mulligan.

•Sandusky County Prosecutor Tom Stierwalt, sheriff's detective Sean O'Connell; county coroner John Wukie, county court judges Barbara Ansted and John Dewey.

•Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine, lead prosecutor Matt Donahue, visiting Judge Dale Crawford.

•The Ohio Highway Patrol and Patrol Sgt. Ricky Vitte Jr.

•President Obama, the U.S. Border Patrol and affiliated federal police agencies.

Each individual and the agencies they represent, in some powerful way, often show an attitude suggesting they believe the rules don't apply to them. It's not uncommon for some agencies, and leaders of those institutions, to act as if they are above the law, in the practice of enforcing the law.

Former President Richard Nixon gave the clearest explanation for his view, an understanding many public officials still share: “It's not a crime if the President does it.”

Members of this elite group all are sensitive to publicity, and have other common traits. They often exhibit extreme indignation if even slightly questioned whether they followed the Ohio Revised Code, or observed the rights granted in the U.S. Constitution.

“How dare you talk to a county sheriff like that,” Sandusky County Sheriff Kyle Overmyer once replied to a reporter's question about compliance.

“We'll give the Register one more chance,” Ottawa County Prosecutor Mulligan told a reporter in April, suggesting if he didn't like the reporter's story when it published he might pick up his marbles and go home.

He's gone underground.

Mulligan began boycotting Ottawa County Register reporter Alex Green after Green asked him two questions about his drug task force. Mulligan flummoxed. He hasn't returned a telephone call or replied to emails or public records requests in weeks.

The state's public records law doesn't give public officials the option to ignore inquiries from the public, a reporter, or anyone else. The flagrant disregard is a symptom of a much larger problem.

Mulligan folds after two questions.

— FEEDING IN THE VOID

Scofflaws feed on complex situations. They seek to short-circuit outcomes by exploiting the need for precision. They ignore the most serious questions and obfuscate or seek to dismiss them with sub-parr explanations, or no specific response at all.

They feed in the void. Public officials who don't want to be answerable — or have the agencies they represent be accountable — often behave like bullies and people with mental illnesses often become the casualties of a broken chain of command.

Mulligan left many questions unanswered about his decisions in a whole series of cases, from giving what many perceive as passes to sex offenders and violent criminals to looking the other way when an audit revealed former Ottawa County Sheriff Bob Bratton stole more than $10,000 from the county's “Furtherance of Justice Fund.”

The furthance of something, anyway.

In Huron County, sheriff Howard's team botches a search warrant, he provides inaccurate information about it to the public and nearly two months later files misguided charges against the person whose constitutional rights deputies violated during a yahoo execution of the raid.

In Sandusky County, the sheriff's office and the Fremont police faked an investigation of the 2007 death of 37-year-old Craig Burdine at the Sandusky County Jail. The only action taken after Burdine died at the jail under extremely concerning circumstances, was to collect written statements and write a report with specific details they never verified, and that don't appear accurate.

More than a half-dozen families have filed lawsuits or made public complaints against Sandusky County officials for behavior that ​is similar in many ​aspects. 

It wasn't a criminal investigation after Burdine died; it was more a book report with what seemed to be pre-ordained conclusions that ignored evidence the family later brought forward. The video surveillance, the injuries, the medical reports, the data reports, the autopsy, and other troubling information. In all, ​the family provided more than 5,500 pages ​to state investigators. 

The baton got slipped to Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine, who's ignoring at least some of that information ​as much as he can but still hopes to bring it home for the home team. DeWine​'s investigators are close to finishing up another fake ​investigation into the previous fake investigations by the Fremont police and the Sandusky County sheriff's office.

AG Prosecutor Matt Donahue is not an advocate for the Burdine family; he's acting as secret defense counsel for county law enforcement personnel in front of a grand jury hearing the “evidence” from the state's “criminal” investigation.

DeWine's already no-billed two previous grand juries in Sandusky County and cleared local officials in other previous fake investigations. He's intent on delivering the goods again with the Burdine grand jury — that no wrongdoing occurred — affirming the implausible official story officials have told.

From Mulligan to Stierwalt and from Overmyer to Howard and up to DeWine, boycotting questions from the families and from reporters might be viewed by them as effective and limiting information in crimnal investigations might be the standard.

But it's improper, seems almost cowardly and is beneath the dignity of the offices they hold.

Or something like that.

Read the petition to Gov. John Kasich

Comments

Steve P

If you aren't on the management's speed dial list, why talk to this newspaper when you know to expect a hatchet job?

ram03

It time to clean house. If these people aren't fired, perhaps we the people start firing their bosses.

Ralph J.

Elected and public officials are supposed to be beholden to the public. Some public officials refuse to answer to the public. The news media acts on behalf of the public and has a duty to serve as a government watchdog for the people. The public officials mentioned in the news story appear to be very arrogant by not answering to the public or to the watchdog for the public. Public officials can write a letter to the editor to explain their actions. Throw these self serving arrogant bums out of office. They only serve themselves and their cronies. Thanks Matt and SR for being the watchdog for the people.

richrs

The only duty the media has is to their shareholders. To sell papers and make a profit. Hopefully along the way fairly report the news.

Ralph J.

Former President Richard Nixon gave the clearest explanation for his view, an understanding many public officials still share: “It's not a crime if the President does it.” These public officials follow Nixon's example.

kURTje

Voltaire: "It is dangerous to be right when the government is wrong."

Florence Nightingale

Officials are not required to give newspaper interviews. And would anyone try to argue that this paper is unbiased toward the officials named above? On the other hand, if they are required to respond to public records requests, then they should be made to comply.

Kottage Kat

Wow, Matt
Don't back down or back off.
Keep up the fight 4. right

SamAdams

Matt, I'm not going to argue the point you're making about public officials hiding from the press and therefore the public they serve. I also won't accuse The Register of some of the things these same public officials seem to imply because I don't know enough of the specifics to be sure. But if you're going to write editorials like this, you need to make VERY sure that the stories your reporters write are both accurate and scrupulously unbiased.

Many public officials are sick and tired of being skewered by the press on a regular basis. Yes, sometimes they deserve it, but many times a reporter (or even an entire publication) on a "mission" is the true cause of the problem.

Again, the examples you mention in this column involve matters well worth questioning, and you're doing a great service to the public in this area to do so. But I'm also acutely aware of a political bias at The Register as are a number of others with whom I've spoken on the subject. The fact is, if a reporter is doing his/her job RIGHT, I shouldn't be able to tell whether s/he's liberal, conservative, libertarian, or a flaming militant anarchist. Just because there's some well deserved blame among officialdom here doesn't mean that The Register doesn't also need to look at the mote in its OWN eye!

Lil DAB

If the public officials don't have anything to hide, then why don't they indicate that with a communication to the people they represent or elected them?

If you are following the MANY cases of incidents with no proper investigations, cover-ups, abuse, and protection of those committing the wrong-doings; and the public officials have nothing to say, then the best we get to HEAR/READ both sides of the "story" is the reporting in this paper from public documents and interviews. There are a whole lot of people that appreciate this information we would otherwise not have!

Continue what you are doing, Sandusky County officials; the next award the Sandusky Register and their reporter will get will be about you!

Babo

"Scofflaws feed on complex situations. They seek to short-circuit outcomes by exploiting the need for precision. They ignore the most serious questions and obfuscate or seek to dismiss them with sub-par explanations, or no specific response at all.

They feed in the void. Public officials who don't want to be answerable — or have the agencies they represent be accountable — often behave like bullies and people with mental illnesses often become the casualties of a broken chain of command."

Matt, thank you for recognizing and stating this common sense explanation of their MO. Many of us who have to deal with bad government sometimes find ourselves at a loss of words (or too many words) to explain the conduct and why it matters.

However, not only the mentally ill may become the casualties of this broken chain of command. Sometimes once strong, vibrant, and intelligent people i.e. "canaries in the mine", may recognize the problem earlier than others and are broken or horribly harmed too. So, kudos to you for helping Jess Burdine and others.