The Cleves Police Department is in rebellion against Chief Mark Demeropolis, with 11 of the 14 officers on the force signing a petition calling for his resignation.
The petition follows the towing and impoundment of 22 private cars on order of the mayor. An officer who refused to participate in writing citations for the towing operation, saying it violated procedures laid out in state law, has been suspended.
A sergeant and a lieutenant are among the officers calling for Demeropolis to step down, citing "unfair treatment, inconsistent manner in which discipline is leveled, along with ongoing mismanagement of funds and hiring methods and practices."
In an e-mail, Demeropolis declined comment, saying Mayor Danny Stacy has forbidden employees to talk to reporters.
"I am following the order of my mayor," Demeropolis wrote. "When this incident is fully reviewed by the mayor and council, he may allow me to speak with you."
Stacy acknowledges ordering what he called "junk cars" towed last week.
"I know we had them towed under my order," he says. "I don't know if they were improperly towed.
I don't know all the issues there. There is a law for that. If there was something wrong with that, we'll look into it."
Unaware of problems
Cleves is one of the smallest incorporated areas in Hamilton County, its 1.5 square miles housing about 2,500 residents along the Ohio River near the Indiana border. But despite the village's small size, Stacy professed himself ignorant of the police officers' concerns.
"I didn't know there were any issues," he says. "It's not their place to ask for anybody's resignation. It's not their job — it's the mayor's. I've spoken with (Demeropolis), but he's not sure what the issues are either."
Vice Mayor Pat Green also said she was unaware.
"We have not had the opportunity to discuss this with the members of the police department," she says. "We're meeting with all of them Tuesday to see what in the world is going on. I'm sure nothing is going on."
But several police officers, speaking on condition of anonymity, say the chief knows exactly why they're angry. In fact, they say Demeropolis told officers that, if they asked for his resignation, he'd give it. The petition says Demeropolis made the statement at a Dec. 30 meeting.
"We haven't had a chance to investigate it," Stacy says. "I'm going to be meeting with the employees to find out what their issues are and how to resolve them. I'm sure some of it is management style."
Last week Demeropolis suspended Officer Drew Cook for insubordination. Cook referred reporters to his attorney, Adam Bleile. Cook had refused to sign citations to the owners of junk cars Demeropolis ordered towed, according to Bleile.
"They were towing cars, which I believe was completely illegally done," he says. "At one point, my client was told to sign the ticket. He said, 'No, I can't issue a citation for this.' He refused because it's an illegal order. My client did the right thing."
The village has offered to quietly resolve the suspension, but Cook has so far declined, Bleile says.
"I've gotten it to where he can just get off with a slap on the wrist," he says. "He has refused to take the protection for himself and leave everybody else out in the cold. All these cars were towed at the request of the mayor. He gave this list to the police chief, and the chief just started yanking them. The mayor has no authority to have vehicles towed. He can put in a request like any other citizen."
Shooting the messenger
Demeropolis has been police chief in Cleves for about 18 months. Stacy says he's done a good job.
"Chief Demeropolis has done many things for our village and for our police department," he says. "Because of his high energy, we have two new vehicles and are replacing a lot of antiquated equipment. I'm very pleased with his work. I'm sure there's a learning curve there. He doesn't know everything, just like I don't know everything. If there's an area he needs some training in, we'll get it for him."
Stacy says the reason he ordered village employees not to talk to reporters was in order to prevent the controversy from worsening.
"I'm not mad at anybody," he says. "I'm just bothered that they didn't give us ample time to fix the problem, if there's a problem there."
That might not be easy, however. The police petition cites low morale on the department and says Demeropolis' officers have no faith in him.
"Further review of qualifications for this position reveals that you do not possess the background nor education which is needed to maintain, lead or motivate an effective and efficient police department," the petition says.
The petition and furor over the towing operation are only the surface of a deeper conflict, according to Bleile.
"I don't think this is going to be resolved," he says. "It's going to be a mess. I think there's a lot of ugliness underneath there. I think they're seeing things that are illegal and they're concerned about it."
Cook functioned as an informal liaison between police officers and the village administration.
"They shot the messenger," Bleile says.
Police officers aren't the only people complaining about Demeropolis. A Miami Township firefighter, who asked not to be named, says the chief bullied her teenage daughter for refusing to reserve a video for him at a movie rental store where she works.
Stacy says he hopes the conflict between officers and the chief doesn't affect public safety.
"I hope not," he says. "I'm assuming that these police officers are doing their jobs right now. I wouldn't want to see our citizens placed at risk in any way, shape or form. I hope they're thinking of more than just themselves. I hope they're thinking of the village as a whole. Something like this can paint an ugly picture of the village." ©