Sunday, January 03, 1999

Covington officer unforgotten


        One year ago today, Covington Police Officer Mike Partin fell to his death in the Ohio River. To mark the anniversary, reporter Jane Prendergast and photographer Patrick Reddy spent a night shift with Officer Brian Valenti, who went to school with Officer Partin and was on duty the night he died.

BY JANE PRENDERGAST
The Cincinnati Enquirer

[valenti]
Officer Brian Valenti keeps a memory of Officer Mike Partin hanging from his rear-view mirror.
(Patrick Reddy photo)

| ZOOM |
        COVINGTON — This shift begins like most — roll call, a heads-up about some fugitives. Rifles checked, lights and sirens tested.

        It's almost 11 p.m., and a second batch of third-shift Covington officers is preparing to work. Another night, probably, of domestic problems, security alarms triggered at businesses, juveniles out too late. The usual stuff that keeps night cops busy.

        Officer Brian Valenti will handle a chunk of the city's East Side. As he heads out, he passes a picture of Officer Mike Partin. And another of Officer Partin's funeral. And a badge covered in black — the symbol of a fallen police officer.

partin
Mike Partin
        Officer Valenti joined the department with Mike Partin, on Sept. 9, 1996. They knew each other at Glen Este High School and played football together. Neither knew they would be fellow officers until they met at the department's agility test.

        Their careers and lives were parallel — young, enthusiastic rookies who, despite having wives and children, didn't really mind the night shift because it generally offers less of the mundane and more true police work.

        Both officers were working that tragic night of Jan. 3, 1998. Officer Valenti heard his high school friend get dispatched to help another officer on the Clay Wade Bailey Bridge. He heard when officers began to realize that Officer Partin had fallen off the bridge and disappeared.

        “I remember what happened that night very vividly,” he says.

        He dreamed about Officer Partin again, just last week. In this one, he was at Officer Par tin's wedding. Mike wore cowboy boots and a cowboy hat.

        Officer Valenti's shift starts with running some people off the Klingenberg's lot at 13th and Greenup streets. They scatter before he makes it out of his cruiser and across the street, but he knows they'll be back as soon as he's gone.

        The kind of stuff Officer Partin used to do, too.

        A little after 11, Officer Valenti stops a game of basketball. The players should be inside, he tells them, because the city has an 11 p.m. curfew. They go in. Then he is called twice to a house on East 18th Street to help a man find his 15-year-old daughter. She's around the corner and none too happy to see her dad or the police.

        “Little anecdotes about Mike come up in conversation all the time,” Officer Valenti says. “Like, "Oh, I was on this call with Mike,' or "We were on that call together.' We haven't forgotten.”

        Sometimes, the reminders come from the streets. A couple of weeks ago, a man in the City Heights housing project didn't like officers showing up at his apartment. He shouted a reference to the dead officer and told them to go jump in the river.

        On this shift, a man arrested at 1 a.m. for sitting in his Yukon on 13th Street with some pot and a gun spouts off at Officer Valenti about Officer Partin. He calls him stupid and something else unmentionable, adding that Covington officers couldn't even manage to find their own man in the water.

        “That,” Officer Valenti says later, “isn't even funny.”

        The department will honor the anniversary of Officer Partin's disappearance on Monday, but in a private way. The officer's widow, Lisa, and others are ready to put the death as far behind them as possible. They don't want to be the center of media attention anymore.

        The third shift, however, might do its own memorial.

        “I guarantee you,” Officer Valenti says, “that some of us will be up on the bridge that night.”

        Officer Valenti's shift winds down at the Anchor Grill, a 24-hour neighborhood diner near MainStrasse. There aren't a lot of restaurant choices in Covington at 4 a.m.

        The talk turns to the dead officer. This is the last place Sgt. Spike Jones saw Mike Partin, in the last booth a day or so before he fell. Sgt. Jones was being transferred to days; Officer Partin hassled him about it.

        So the sergeant thought it was a joke when he got the 2 a.m. call Jan. 4. Somebody told him Officer Partin was gone. Yeah right, he thought, third shift's just harassing me because I'm asleep and they're not. No, the caller said, it's true. Come to the riverfront now.

        “He was just the picture of what kids want to grow up to be when they say they want to be a police officer,” says Sgt. Jones, who has since returned to the shift. “He was in great physical shape. He was smart. He was aggressive.”

        He and the others still think of Mike. Officer Jon Stager drove car 906, Officer Partin's, from the bridge that night. That wasn't easy.

        Badges made shortly after the disappearance still hang from their rear-view mirrors. With Officer Valenti's: a medal of St. Christopher, the Catholic patron saint of travelers.

        His plate of chicken fingers and fries empty, Officer Valenti heads back out for another hour on Covington's streets. He checks an intrusion alarm at Butler's Cafe. The others are checking out two abandoned refrigerators and a broken window at Dollar General. He sits in a Madison Avenue parking lot trying to finish his reports until a station wagon and Saturn bang into each other in front of Rent America.

        It's the usual kind of stuff, the kind Officer Partin did every night.

       PARTIN PAGE



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