On Saturday night, June 6th, shortly after 9 p.m., a routine traffic stop by two Put-in-Bay police officers started a series of events that culminated in an independent investigation into the handling of the affair, plus has island officials looking at new approaches to policing on the island in the years to come.
The Put-in-Bay Police Incident
The incident started when police pulled over an 8-passenger Put-in-Bay golf carts with ten people on it after they allegedly ran stop signs and drove recklessly. The cart passed a police golf cart facing south parked by the Island Hardware sign on Langram Rd. As the cart pulled past the police and turned right, the police turned on their siren and gave chase pulling the cart over in the parking lot of Adventure Bay, a local attraction.
Officer #1 proceeded to get the driver’s information and telling him his cart was overloaded and that he had seen the driver“running stop signs.” The driver denied running any stop sign. Reportedly, Officer #2 noticed one of the men passing something to one of the women passengers, who put it in her pants. Officer #2 told Officer #1, who immediately went to the woman and started putting her in handcuffs.
The Put-in-Bay Police Videos
When this happened, the driver, who had been told to step back, stepped forward and asked Officer #1 about why she was being arrested. Officer #1 tells Officer #2 to arrest the driver without answering the question. A scuffle can be seen on the body cam video with the man demanding to know why he was being arrested. With that, the other passengers, clearly upset about what was happening, were out of the cart and shouting and screaming at the officers protesting her arrest. Officer #1 at that point started yelling, “Get on the ground! Get on the ground! over and over again. In one video, both officers can be seen with their guns drawn on the group before backup arrived.
From the advantage point of one onlooker, it appeared every island police vehicle with sirens howling and lights flashing ascended on the scene. It looked like a riot, according to one island woman, although videos and photos show only the people from the cart and island police officers, somewhat spread out, with a few bystanders looking on. Phone videos and officer body cameras of the melee show tasers being used and people forced to the ground to be handcuffed.
One video shows a police officer with his knee near the groin of one of the downed men. Another shows a man with his hands in the air and police yelling at him to get on the ground. When he stumbled on a curb, one officer forces him to the ground and two other officers jumped on top of him to cuff him. A woman can be heard in the background screaming at the officers, something like “You’re arresting all these black men, why aren’t you arresting me?” The multiple videos taken at the scene show several minutes of confrontation between the officers and the group.
As backup started to arrive with sirens howling and lights flashing, the police began to get people to the ground and cuffed. With the police and men shouting and the women screaming things really were tense for a time. Six men were all taken to the Town Hall and later transported to the Ottawa County jail after being charged with assault, aggravated rioting, and resisting arrest. According to Chief Riddle, the three women on the cart were held in the lobby of the Put-in-Bay Police Dept. and left the island the next morning subject to later court appearances.
Eight of the nine arrested were black according to reports. According to reports, no Put-in-Bay Police Dept. officers were hurt, but one officer lost his body cam during the raucous affair. It was found later. Two men were tased, and some of those arrested suffered scraps and what appeared to be a small cut on the forehead of one man.
The Reinforcements Arrive
While all this was coming down, there was a ruckus outside T&J’s and a fight in the street in front of the Round House, a call police could not immediately respond to due to most of the officers being busy with the goings-on in the Adventure Bay parking lot. One shop owner had people running out of her store with clothes on hangars, plus police answered a call on the Jet Express Dock. There were also other fights down the street, plus Subway and Cameo Pizza both closed early due to a fight outside the Commodore Resort.
At some point two calls go out, one to the ODNR and one to the U.S. Coast Guard, asking for policing help. Help apparently was unavailable, so Ottawa County Sheriff Steve Levorchick’s office was called to provide mutual aid. Levorchick later said, “They (the Put-in-Bay Police) claimed that they were locked inside of their police department and barricaded and that people were trying to break into the police department because of inmates, they had locked up inside.” The “Special Response Team” officers from three counties, Erie, Sandusky, and Ottawa, by Jet Express, arrived shortly after midnight to help de-escalate the situation. According to Levorchick, by the time they got to the island, the incident was defused.
Riot at Put-in-Bay & The Aftermath
On Sunday, in the Sandusky Register, the headline above the article about the incident at Put-in-Bay read, “Riots on Put-in-Bay,” and social media was alive with multiple videos of what went on. On Monday, protesters were outside the courthouse in Port Clinton as the men were released one at a time. The Ottawa County Prosecutor James VanEerten, who handles cases for the Village, dropped all charges but reserved the right to recharge the defendants after a review of the numerous videos taken that night.
Also on Monday, the Safe Island Task Force met at the Put-in-Bay Town Hall to discuss what happened. The Safe Island Task Force is a group of island officials and business people that was originally set up to solve the problems of Christmas in July and promoting a safer island for visitors to enjoy. During the meeting, members received information that a group of protesters was on its way to the island on the Jet Express.
After a bit of discussion, a group led by Chief Riddle left the meeting to escort the protesters to the Town Hall so they could voice their concerns directly with the SITF members. The protesters never showed up, but at Miller’s dock on Catawba, a few people did show up, but left shortly after one of the ferries unloaded
On Tuesday, the Put-in-Bay Village Council met in its regular session. Several members had already seen videos of the multiple arrests on social media and had questions about the Put-in-Bay Police Department officers’ handling of the situation. Chief Riddle was in attendance and told the Council what he knew of the incident and that the body cams on the officers would show the other side of the story. Mayor Dress and the Village Solicitor meet with the County Prosecutor and Sheriff. The Mayor also discusses policing plans for the upcoming weekend with Chief Riddle.
Put-in-Bay Police Chief Riddle put on Administrative Leave
On Wednesday, June 10th, Mayor Jessica Dress placed Put-in-Bay Police Chief Steve Riddle on paid administrative leave pending the outcome of an official inquiry. Subsequently, Lt. Mike Russo and Sgt. Melissa Wilde submitted their verbal resignations to her and returned to their home, abandoning their scheduled evening patrol shift. Mayor Dress announces Capt. Matt Mariano will serve as the department’s acting chief. To this day both Russo and Wilde deny they resigned and no proof has been proffered that they in fact did so.
The FBI Involvement
On Friday the 12th, it was reported in the mainland press that the county prosecutor said the FBI was getting involved due to the circumstances surrounding the arrests and an incident that took place over the Memorial Day weekend. He was quoted as saying that the FBI gets involved when there is a violation of a constitutional right in cases that might possibly be racially motivated. It was later learned that the investigation was for another incident that took place on Memorial Day Weekend. The FBI formally subpoenas Put-in-Bay on Saturday, June 20th, to obtain records related to possible civil rights violations committed by island police.
The Following Weekend – June 12th – 14th The weekend comes. Acting Chief Capt. Matt Mariano and his officers, plus several Sheriff’s Deputies, although busy, keep things under control. Officer Nicolas Santora is put on leave and an internal review of his actions after the June 6th event is conducted. Several days later, he returned to work.
The Independent Review
On Monday, June 15th, the Village Council met in executive session and upon coming out, voted to have an independent review of the June 6th incident. Late in the afternoon, the Safe Island Task Force met at the Town Hall with an audience of local officials, business owners, and managers. Also in attendance was Ottawa County Sheriff Steve Levorchick and Sandusky City Commissioner Blake Harris. Along with a lot of insightful conversation came the Sheriff’s advice that the Put-in-Bay Police Dept. needs to train its officers in de-escalation tactics as it addresses problems of a changing world.
Civil Protection Order Filed Against Acting Put-in-Bay Police Chief
Melissa Wilde, one of the two police officers who resigned on June 10th, filed a civil protection order on Tuesday the 16th against acting Chief Mariano, alleging sexual misconduct emanating from a bachelor party on Sept. 6th, 2019. The Sheriff served Mariano with the court order and took possession of his weapons. The Mayor relieves Mariano of duty and puts him on administrative leave.
Sheriffs Want to be Paid by Put-in-Bay
The Sheriffs of Sandusky and Erie County are reported to want to be paid for sending their deputies to the island shortly after midnight on June 7th after the Put-in-Bay police called for backup. Sandusky County Sheriff Chris Hilton reportedly called the deployment “a colossal waste of time, money and resources.” The Erie County Sherriff’s Dept. bill is reported to be about $3600, with the bill from Sandusky County at $1770. Another bill from Ottawa County came in at $3,200.
New Acting Chief #2 For Put-in-Bay Police
On Thursday, June 18th, the Mayor meets with Council. Another Acting Chief, Detective Sergeant Yuri Linetsky, is temporarily hired. The purchase of 10 Tasers is approved. The Next Weekend – June 19th – 21st The police and EMS have their hands full. One business owner reported this third weekend of June was the roughest so far. The unprecedented crowds have police and a few extra Sheriff’s Deputies from the mainland scurrying from call to call but are able to keep things under control. Patrick Rogers from the EMS and his staff see a record number of calls, mostly alcohol-related.
Facing Reality On Wednesday, June 24th, the Safe Island Task Force met upstairs in the Town Hall. About 60 people in attendance listen to the Sheriff of Ottawa County Steve Levorchick, Mayor Dress, SITF member and former Mayor of Toledo Mike Bell, and the latest acting police chief, Yuri Linetsky, all have bluntassessments of what is going on as far as policing Put-in-Bay. There’s no doubt new ideas and changes are needed.
New Acting Chief #3 For Put-in-Bay Police
On Friday, June 26th, Council approves the Mayor’s choice of James Kimble, a former Wood County Sheriff Deputy, as acting Police Chief. He is highly recommended for the job by Ottawa County Sheriff Steve Levorchick. Kimble starts the job immediately after being sworn in by the Mayor later in the day. Council votes to hire a private firm to investigate the June 6th police incident. The Last Weekend – June 26th – 27th
With weekends the way they’ve been, no one is quite sure what to expect. Several new officers have been hired, and Ottawa County Sheriff deputies are not called to help out. Rain on Saturday evening probably put a damper on the crazy activity of the previous two weeks.
New Acting Police Chief #3 Accused of Assault
New allegations of excessive force were leveled against the leader of the embattled Put-in-Bay police department. This latest complaint complete with a video that supports the charges as the result of how the department’s acting chief responded to a call about an assault. The victim who filed the complaint has come forward and provided investigators with the video.
Patrick McCann whose parents own the popular Round House Bar on the island said he was on the sidewalk waiting to give officers a statement about an incident on Sept. 19. He’d called for police just moments before, stating an intoxicated suspect hit him and two others inside the Roundhouse Bar.
“I was just standing there,” he said. “I was the victim of the original assault.”
After the suspect was handcuffed, though, McCann said things escalated again, unexpectedly. In the body cam video released by the Put-in-Bay Police department, you can hear a man yelling “back up.” “He was kind of yelling in general, but eventually, he just stepped right in front of me, telling me to back up,” McCann said.
The man who was yelling turned out to be the city’s acting chief of police, James Kimball.
He was dressed in plain clothes. McCann says he didn’t hear him announce that, though in the body cam, you can hear it. Regardless, McCann appeared to comply with the orders anyway, wondering why other officers weren’t stepping in as he got shoved over and over again before he says he fell over. “I just thought some large man was coming up, yelling at me, so that’s why I was backing up,” McCann said
In the body camera video released by the department, you can hear a man yelling “back up.” “He was kind of yelling in general, but eventually, he just stepped right in front of me, telling me to back up,” McCann said.
The man who was yelling turned out to be the city’s acting chief of police, James Kimball. “I called the police, and I ended up getting thrown down by the police. Nobody wants that to happen,” he said.
He’s spent the last few months trying to make sense of it all. But, when he recently viewed the body camera footage released in a public records request, he says there was a renewed sense that he needed to file a formal complaint. “I don’t think that’s the way the chief of police should act,” he said. McCann said he’s since been told that the Ottawa County Prosecutor’s Office is investigating the complaint he filed against Kimble. In it, McCann writes, “The physical contact he made with me was completely unnecessary.”
Put-in-Bay Police Chief Gets a DEAL
It appears one is now rewarded for there being a dangerous dereliction of duty and a cesspool of incompetence inside the village of Put-in-Bay’s police department. The latest proof of that disease is the announcement this week that police Chief Steve Riddle will retire at the end of the year and get a $36,000 paycheck to walk away, in the form of a consultant’s contract. He’s also been on paid leave for over 7 months
Viewing the body cam videos from the cameras officers who were wearing when that incident happened suggests the only reason the traffic stop did not turn deadly is that the “suspects” encouraged each other to remain calm as it began to get out of control. The officers were not heroes in that incident, or in another racially charged incident on the island a few weeks earlier at one of the Put-in-Bay Hotels.
Not a bad deal? Not bad, if you’re Steve Riddle and you’ve been on the job just since 2017 with little or no practical experience to manage a law enforcement agency, and no apparent success at doing it. In fact, for the last six months, Riddle has been benched, sidelined with a suspension since June after officers under his command targeted minorities in a traffic stop that was disgraceful and narrowly avoided a disastrous outcome.
Within days all charges against the men and women of color visiting the island that day were dropped and an investigation was ordered to determine if police racially profiled them before initiating the traffic stop. The FBI, also, was duty-bound to investigate and determine if that was the case since to do so would be a federal violation of the civil rights guaranteed to all Americans.
The Put-in-Bay Police Departments Long History Of Bad Actors
The local police department is no stranger to controversy and poor leadership. Under the watch of former police Chief Ric Lampela, Officer Steve Korossy wrongfully arrested several employees from the popular Put-in-Bay Resort after trying to coerce them into making statements against their will. Korossy manipulated several parking tickers
The corrupt officer Korossy utilized the LEADS system to garner information on several individuals for his own personal use. Ex-Officer Steve Korossy was charged with a 14 count Felony Indictment and was fired from the force. He later was hired by the Volusia County Sheriff’s Department who failed to do a background check on Korossy. He was subsequently fired when they became aware of his criminal past.
Former Chief of the Put-in-Bay Police Ric Lampela was forced from office after several high-profile incidents and accusations of sexual misconduct. Criminal charges were filed against Lampela after a former officer claimed Lampela racked the slide of his pistol and pointed the weapon at his head.
The Good Put-in-Bay Police
While the Put-in-Bay Police have had more than their share of bad actors, there were a few shining bright spots in recent history. Former Chiefs Jim Lang & Mike Frank brought civility, leadership, and high standards to the office in their brief stints as chiefs. The only problem is it seems obvious this is not what the mayors of the community have wanted. Even one former Mayor Mac McCann joins the list of those indicted.