2009-08-15 / Editorials & Letters

How many

How many…?

How many Ohio State Highway Patrol officers does it take to cite an off-duty trooper for doing 147 mph on his motorcycle on I-70 near Buckeye Lake?

The answer is 10, according to a 15-page report issued by the Ohio Inspector General last Friday. Two of the 10 - Trooper Hasty, who was in the plane that timed the "the bullets comin' at ya" and Sgt. Pasqualetti - were not criticized in the report and the tenth, Lt. Col. Costas, quickly made the decision to issue the citation.

The Inspector General's report paints a very unflattering picture of OSP's decision-making process and commitment to its own Code of Ethics. That code, which is part of the Ohio Administrative Code, lists 10 provisions. No. 4 very clearly covers this instance.

It reads, "They (members of the Ohio State Highway Patrol) shall administer the law in a just, impartial manner, affording the same reasonable treatment in all cases. They shall recognize the limitations of their authority and at no time use the power of their office for their own personal advantage."

Trp. Highsmith, who plead guilty Monday, certainly violated the Code of Ethics when he was heard on the in-cruiser video trying to use his position to get out of a citation for exceeding the speed limit by 126 percent (82 mph over the 65 mph limit). Trp. Lee, who initiated the traffic stop and Trp. Wilson, who stood by, both violated the Code of Ethics by failing "to administer the law in a just, impartial manner, affording the same reasonable treatment in all cases."

Wilson, according the the report, simply left the scene and Lee let Highsmith and his 149 mph riding buddy, Gahanna Police Officer Thomas, go. Neither Lee or Wilson consulted with Sgt. Pasqualetti who was about a mile away, working the same air speed checkpoint. The report states, "Both Tpr. Willson and Tpr. Lee used extremely poor judgment in this instance. Given the outrageously high rates of speed involved, there was no acceptable rationale for not issuing citations."

With exception of Pasqualetti and Costas, it is distressing to see how many higher ranking officers failed to make the glaringly obvious decision and passed the issue up the ladder. The Granville Post commander, Lt. Roseboro, told the IG investigators that he didn't like to 'second guess his guys.' He kicked it up to the District 6 duty officer, S/Lt. Black, who in turn tossed it up to the district commander Captain Combest. Combest then went to his boss, Major Minter who heads Field Operations for OSP. Minter, the report says, made the decision to issue the citations, but that "was waylaid" when Combest brought up the issue of labor contracts.

Unbelievably, union contracts with the troopers and sergeants state, "No troopers will be ordered to make arrests." and "No Sergeants will be ordered to make arrests." How did such a provision ever get into an otherwise military-style organization? Nevertheless, Combest and Minter decided to consult with Major Kolcum who has responsibility for Human Resources. Both Combest and Minter apparently didn't consider the fact that issuing a citation is not an "arrest."

According to the IG's report, Kolcum didn't believe the contract was a significant issue. Consequently, Combest was supposed to "gather information about the traffic stop…meet with Tpr. Lee to suggest what might have been done differently at the time of the stop." But Lee was off the next two days so a senior staff meeting was held three days after the stop that included Lt. Col. Costas, back after some vacation. Costas made the decision to give Lee the opportunity "to do the right things and issue the citations." Lee served Highsmith with a citation on Thursday.

That still left the issue of the citation for the Gahanna officer. According to the report, he was only cited after the Gahanna Deputy Chief insisted that he be treated the same as Highsmith. Granville Post Commander Roseboro served Officer Thomas eight days after the incident.

While the IG didn't find any evidence that OSP tried to cover up the incident, the report did cite a failure by individuals to perform their "statutory obligations" and an "over-analysis" of the incident.

It is disturbing that a lieutenant, staff lieutenant, captain and a major failed to cut to the chase and order the citations to be issued. What don't they understand about the very clear language in their Code of Ethics?

Is the preferential treatment of "friendlies," as Trp. Lee described Highsmith and Thomas, so ingrained in the OSP culture that these egregious violations weren't addressed until almost reaching the top of the OSP command structure?

It's very questionable whether Highsmith and Thomas deserve to keep their law enforcement jobs. In just seconds, their reckless behavior could have triggered a severe and likely fatal crash. They certainly didn't exercise the judgment required of someone given police powers over the rest of us. Troopers Lee and Wilson also deserve some significant time off to reflect on the Code of Ethics, particularly No. 4. Their actions that Sunday demonstrate that their loyalty lies more with fellow officers than their duties to the public. Highsmith and Thomas were endangering dozens of lives on I-70 that afternoon, yet Lee and Wilson were more interested in protecting them from the consequences of their actions, rather than protecting the public. Roseboro may be unfit to command a post if he is unwilling to 'second guess his guys' in such a blatant situation. A refresher on the Code of Ethics may be needed up through the ranks. Surely someone below a Lt. Colonel could exercise some leadership and get the citations issued.

This incident has significantly tarnished OPS's reputation. Now that the court actions are complete, we hope OSP moves decisively to uphold its Code of Ethics and its commitment to the public's safety. Our society is based on universal respect for the law. Failure to apply laws equally and particularly to law enforcement personnel seriously undermines that foundation.

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