July 17, 2003


Police officer Josh Cernetic


Police officer is put on paid leave as Village investigates altercation

The Yellow Springs Police Department has placed on paid administrative leave police officer Josh Cernetic for an incident that occurred earlier this month involving a Yellow Springs youth.

Cernetic was placed on leave on July 4, just hours after the incident reportedly took place, pending the results of an investigation by interim Police Chief John Grote. Grote said that he does not know when the situation will be resolved, explaining that he is still taking statements about the incident.

Grote said that Cernetic was placed on paid leave “so the incident could be investigated.” Grote said he could not discuss the investigation.

Statements by the youth, a 16-year-old Yellow Springs High School student, and witnesses say that Cernetic used too much force when he tried to place the youth under arrest in the Corry Street municipal parking lot. Cernetic, who was hired by the local Police Department in 2000, said in a statement that the youth fell to the ground after his shirt slipped from Cernetic’s grasp. In a statement on the incident Grote reported that Cernetic told him he “put” the teen “on the ground.”

The incident started around 11 p.m. on Thursday, July 3, when the youth started to leave the parking lot in his car, according to statements from witnesses and those involved in the incident. The youth’s car was hit from behind by a vehicle driven by another youth, though no damage apparently occurred. After the two drivers talked about what happened, a female teenager got into the driver seat of the youth’s car, and, according to witness statements, acted as if she was going to drive the car. The youth involved in the incident claimed that he played along, but was not going to let his friend drive his car.

Cernetic, who was in the parking lot observing this activity, said in a written statement that he approached the car after the female teen started “to drive away.” Witnesses and the youth said that the car did not move. Cernetic said that he observed the teen admit to someone else in the parking lot that she did not have a driver’s license. He said that he asked the teen to step out of the car, advised her that it was illegal to drive without a license or permit and escorted her to his car.

Cernetic then told the 16-year-old that they needed to talk and asked the teen to walk with him to his cruiser. The officer claimed the teen argued with him, so Cernetic said he placed his hand on the youth’s arm to “make sure he didn’t run away.” The youth tried to pull away and started yelling, Cernetic said. When the youth would not comply with the officer, Cernetic said, he tried to grab his arm again, but only got ahold of his shirt. When the teen continued to struggle, “his shirt slipped out of my hand and he fell to the ground on his butt,” Cernetic said in his statement.

In separate statements, Grote and police sergeant Tom Jones, who came to the Corry Street lot after the altercation occurred, said Cernetic told them that after the youth pulled away from his grasp Cernetic had to put him on the ground.

In his statement, the 16-year-old said that he pulled away from Cernetic because the officer was hurting him. When he tried to pull away a second time, the youth said, Cernetic grabbed him and slammed him to the ground.

Statements from 10 witnesses corroborated the youth’s claim that he was forced to the ground by Cernetic.

In his statement, Grote said, “I observed an abrasion” on the youth’s right arm.

Cernetic, the youth and witnesses disagree on whether the officer tried to arrest the youth and the female who got into the driver’s seat. Grote reported that Cernetic told him he did not place the youth under arrest. The youth claimed that Cernetic was going to arrest him for letting an unlicensed person drive his car. The youth was not charged and was released to his parents. The female youth was released after Cernetic learned she had a permit, Jones said.

Grote said that normally someone would be cited, but not arrested, for allowing an unlicensed driver to drive his or her car.

Shortly after the altercation occurred, Grote met with the youth and his parents at the police station. He also had a meeting with Cernetic about the incident. In addition, police took statements from witnesses, many of whom went down to the station in the Bryan Community Center.

Cernetic said that he could not comment since the incident is under investigation.

The youth’s father said in an interview that he wants Cernetic off the police force, saying that the officer handled the situation inappropriately.

The incident comes during a year of transition in the Police Department. In January, police officer Matt Williams was fired after an internal investigation and pre-disciplinary hearing found that Williams lied about and filed a false report about a traffic stop that occurred in February 2002.

Williams appealed the Village’s decision in Greene County Common Pleas Court. A decision in the case is still pending.

In March, the Village announced that Police Chief Jim Miller had been placed on paid administrative leave, and would officially retire in September. Grote was named interim chief until a permanent chief is hired. Miller has said that he decided to retire because of a difference in opinion between him and Hillard about how the Police Department should be managed.

Grote downplayed a question about how these situations reflect on the department. He pointed out that Williams was dismissed for being untruthful about a traffic stop that occurred last year, while Miller agreed to accept an offer to retire. The incident involving Cernetic is still under investigation, Grote said.

—Robert Mihalek