A Cleves family is charging police harassment and misconduct following a drug raid at their home earlier this month, saying the resulting charges were trumped up and they are the target of an officer with a grudge.
They also claim the officer involved, Lt. Steven Hickey, should never have been hired by the Cleves Police Department after leaving another police command under bad circumstances.
According to Connie Baldrick, the raid on her home for which her 19-year-old son, Mark, now faces marijuana trafficking charges, was merely the latest of run-ins the family has had with Hickey. During the raid, which was initiated by an undercover informant’s claim of having bought marijuana from Mark Baldrick a number of times, police seized evidence and initially charged the then 18-year-old with growing and dealing marijuana, and selling the drug within a school zone.
The cultivation and school zone charges were later dropped because of insufficient evidence, says the Baldricks’ attorney, Diego Padro. Ultimately, less than an ounce of the drug was found in the home.
The family also claims that during the raid, their two dogs were tazed, while one of Connie Baldrick’s daughters, Christine — who is eight months pregnant — was forced to the floor and later charged with marijuana possession when officers found a glass tube filled with what the Baldricks say was catnip. Those charges, too, were also dropped when the prosecutor declined to test the substance.
Padro claims officers also seized a letter involved in an unrelated case that was not covered by the warrant.
Mark Baldrick will be arraigned later this week, while the family considers whether to pursue a civil case against the department and, in particular, Hickey.
“All I know is that (police) tend to overcharge this family, and whenever these people are in trouble, Hickey seems to be involved,” says Padro, a 10-year criminal defense veteran with offices in downtown Cincinnati.
“I think he does have it in for my clients,” Padro adds. “His name keeps popping up. His involvement in all of their cases seems to be too much for just happenstance, and the tactics that have been employed seem excessive.”
According to Connie Baldrick, the “grudge” goes back a few years from a personal matter involving her niece. Since then, the officer has been involved in arrests of cousins and has been a constant in her son’s life. Hickey, she says, has stopped her son’s car frequently over the past two years, once making him drop his pants in public to execute a search, while police cars are frequently parked outside their home.
Last year, Hickey was also involved when Mark was charged with felonious assault after a street fight. Those charges were later reduced to simple assault, says Padro.
“He seems to focus a lot of attention on a teen-age boy, and none of his charges seem to stick,” Padro adds.
Cleves Police Chief Bill Renner, however, paints a different picture of his officer.
Since Renner became chief in 2007, he says, Hickey has been a “model officer” and has received several commendations. In particular, he earned praise for helping close the cases on a series of arson fires, was responsible for finding a cache of child pornography in an abandoned house and, earlier this year, he revived a woman who had nearly overdosed on drugs, saving her life.
“We’ve had no problem with him in my two years (as chief),” says Renner. “There are probably even more commendations in his file from before my time. He’s a good officer.”
Hickey is on vacation until Jan. 4, and could not be reached for comment.
Both Padro and the family also point to a series of events from 2003-04, wondering if Hickey should be a police officer at all.
In early 2003, while he was an officer with the Harrison Police Department, Hickey was suspended for 15 days, forfeited 40 vacation days and was forced to take remedial courses in evidence preservation in a tire-slashing case involving his brother, James Hickey. In that case, investigators charged that then Officer Hickey had tampered with blood evidence in the case and hampered the investigation.
Later that year, the brother — James Hickey — resisted officers using a warrant, injured a sheriff’s deputy by dragging him 200 feet with his car and was found in possession of methamphetamine. He was sentenced to a 15-year prison term. While in jail, Officer Hickey spoke to his brother on the phone and leveled charges at the arresting officers, which led to a lawsuit and investigations with the Harrison department and the Dearborn County Sheriff’s Department in Indiana.
When those charges were proved to be false, Hickey was placed on administrative leave pending a disciplinary hearing, the result of which led to Hickey leaving the Harrison department.
In ruling that the officer had violated 21 of the department’s general orders, then- Hamilton County Municipal Court Judge Albert J. Mestemaker ruled in March 2004 that Hickey had shown he “felt he had a score to settle, not only on the behalf of (his brother), but also on his own behalf. In order to accomplish this goal, he was willing to ruin the careers and reputations” of his fellow officers.
“It’s always the same thing with Hickey,” alleges Connie Baldrick. “I’ve talked to a lot of people and they’ll tell you if you cross him, he’ll come after you and ruin you.”
Hickey then resigned from the Harrison department, according to Harrison Police Chief Chuck Lindsey. He declined to comment further on the case, or Hickey’s service with his department.
Hickey was hired by Cleves months later, a department which has had its share of problems, with two recent chiefs removed from office.
In 2003, Chief Gary Coffey was fired for unauthorized use of a computer and dereliction of duty, pleaded guilty and received six months probation after promising never to work in law enforcement again. His successor, Chief Mark Demeropolis, who hired Hickey, was indicted by a Hamilton County grand jury on four counts of tampering with records and two counts of forgery in 2006, and later got probation and community service in a plea deal.
Renner, who was hired to replace Demeropolis, has made moves to improve the department’s hiring practices, including testing and background searches of prospective officers, he says. But he also stands by Hickey, and says he is puzzled by the Baldricks’ focus on Hickey, especially since the drug raid. He says the Baldricks have been asking local businesses to post a flier in their windows detailing their complaints against Hickey.
“I think they’re singling out Steve in this simply because he signed the search warrant. It was actually another officer that was the investigating officer, but since they saw his name on the warrant they’re trying to discredit him for the court case,” Renner says.
Which is strange, the chief says, because when the case comes to court, Hickey won’t even be the officer testifying.
“(Hickey) was working the day the raid happened, but his role in that investigation was miniscule,” Renner adds.