August 28, 2003
Chief recommends Village fire suspended police officer
The interim chief of the Yellow Springs Police Department has recommended that the Village dismiss police officer Josh Cernetic for violating department rules, including using unnecessary force.
The recommendation, made by interim Chief John Grote, cites eight rules that Cernetic, who was placed on paid administrative leave on July 4, allegedly has not followed, and says that, in Grote’s opinion, the officer’s conduct cannot be rehabilitated. Grote said that both he and Sergeant Tom Jones have worked with Cernetic “to improve his interactions with the public, but we have not seen improvement.”
The recommendation is included in a five-page report that Grote submitted to Village Manager Rob Hillard on Aug. 1. The Village provided the News with a copy of the report after the newspaper requested it.
As a result of Grote’s recommendation, the Village will hold a pre-disciplinary hearing today (Thursday). The hearing, which is not open to the public, will be overseen by a neutral hearing officer. The officer will issue a report on the hearing. After the report is complete, Hillard said he will review all the facts and determine what disciplinary action will be taken, if any.
In an interview Monday, Grote said he is “very confident” in his recommendation, saying that it “is not a rush to judgment.”
“We have truly tried to teach him to use less intrusive means to accomplish the lawful goals of a police officer and that has not happened,” Grote said.
Cernetic did not return phone calls seeking comment.
His attorney, Jeffrey Silverstein of Dayton, declined to comment.
Grote issued his report after conducting an investigation into allegations that Cernetic used too much force against a Yellow Springs High School student on July 3. Grote’s report also focused on two other incidents. One involved a second allegation of excessive force against another local juvenile, after Cernetic arrested two juveniles for underage drinking on June 23, 2003.
The report also says that Cernetic missed a “very important” DUI trial in Xenia, which allowed the offender to be released.
According to the report, other members of the Police Department have been affected by Cernetic’s behavior. For instance, employees have had to “step in to defuse and de-escalate situations between Officer Cernetic and the public,” the report says.
“The totality of Officer Cernetic’s actions, his misconduct and particularly his issues involving abuse of power, have eroded the public’s trust in him, as well as the Department’s and my trust in his ability to do his job,” Grote said in his report.
Cernetic was placed on paid leave after a 16-year-old YSHS student and other witnesses claimed that the officer used too much force during an altercation on July 3 in the public parking lot on Corry Street, a popular hangout for young people.
In the interview, Grote said that the July 3 incident was the “last straw. It was to the point I had to take some action.”
Grote’s report found that there was a “major discrepancy” between Cernetic’s version of events and those of the youth and people who witnessed the incident.
For instance, during the confrontation, the youth and witnesses said, Cernetic forcibly put the teen on the ground.
Cernetic said that the youth tried to pull away from him, so Cernetic tried to grab his arm. Instead, he grabbed hold of the teen’s shirt. When the youth pulled away again, Cernetic lost his grip, and the teen fell to the ground.
Cernetic engaged the youth because, he said, the teen had allowed an unlicensed driver to drive his car. Cernetic said that he was going to cite the youth, Grote said in the report. The youth and witnesses said that Cernetic “verbally placed” the teen under arrest.
Others involved in the incident said that the unlicensed driver never actually drove the car, but only sat in the driver’s seat and acted like she was going to operate the car. Based on statements made by the youth and witnesses, “the violation never occurred,” Grote said.
In his report, Grote said that the Yellow Springs Police Department does not arrest people for allowing an unlicensed driver to operate his or her car. Instead, a citation is written, he said.
“No force would be needed or should be used to facilitate writing a citation,” Grote said. In addition, Grote said that Cernetic applied “excessive” force against the teen that night.
The report says that the teen did admit to cursing at Cernetic. “But a person’s disrespectful attitude is not a lawful reason for using force,” the report states.
In an interview Grote said that except for what he called a “very, extremely minor incident” earlier this year, the teen does not have a record with the police.
Cernetic had been formally evaluated twice since he was hired by the Police Department in 2000.
The first evaluation, which was conducted in August 2001 by Grote, rated Cernetic as strongly satisfactory, and said Cernetic was “doing a good job” and had the “desire to be a good, effective” officer. The evaluation, however, said that Cernetic needed improvement when dealing with younger people.
The second evaluation, conducted in October 2002 by Sergeant Jones, rated Cernetic as satisfactory, and described him as “active and observant.” It highlighted Cernetic’s effort to stop drunk drivers, saying that he had the most DUI arrests on the force. It also said that he “gets along well with his co-workers and the public.”
In his Aug. 1, 2003, report, Grote said that Cernetic is “condescending and demeaning when dealing with juveniles and young adults.”
Cernetic is the third member of the police force to be placed on paid administrative leave in less than a year. In March, Police Chief Jim Miller was placed on leave, agreeing to officially retire on Sept. 3.
Officer Matt Williams was placed on leave in November 2002, and eventually was fired, for an incident that occurred in February 2002. Williams has appealed the Village’s decision in Greene County Common Pleas Court, denying claims made by the Village that Williams filed a false report about a traffic stop. In his appeal, Williams claims that the Village violated his right to due process by not providing him with a post-termination hearing and a mechanism to challenge his dismissal.
The Village is using the same process that led to Williams’s dismissal, a pre-disciplinary hearing, to determine how Cernetic will be disciplined.