Wednesday, July 18, 2001

Cop panel may meet in secret

By Robert Anglen
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        City lawyers say state law doesn't apply to Cincinnati's civilian police oversight board and it can meet privately today with federal investigators examining police conduct.

        But Citizens Police Review Panel members say they don't want to shut the public out of their discussions with the Justice Department.

        “Too much is being done in secret,” said panel member Paul DeMarco. “It doesn't do any good to shut the public out.”

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        He said the panel is at the mercy of city lawyers who have not turned over any information about federal investigators and have tried to control any meetings involving the panel.

        “We don't even know who these people are,” Mr. DeMarco said of the federal investigators. He said the panel would like to set its own schedule for interviews.

        The Ohio Open Meetings Law allows the majority of a public body to meet privately with lawyers only on imminent or pending lawsuits.

        But Deputy City Solicitor Bob Johnstone said Tuesday that under home rule, state law doesn't apply to the panel. He said the city charter supersedes state law.

        The charter requires all proceedings of Cincinnati City Council to be open to the public. But when council created the panel in 1997, it allowed the panel to meet privately on any matter during a regular or special meeting.

        The meeting is scheduled for 4 p.m. today at City Hall.

        Panel members have complained that Washington lawyers hired to represent the city on the federal investigation of police practices have inserted themselves into their meeting with justice officials.

        Panel members say that for years, city officials have blocked their ability to review police misconduct cases, and they recently learned the police division for years had not been turning over copies of citizen complaints against officers.

        The volunteer panel is supposed to review investigations of police misconduct completed by the city's Office of Municipal Investigations and police Internal Investigations Section. They are also supposed to get a copy of every citizen complaint filed against police officers.

        Chief Tom Streicher disputed the panel's claims Tuesday, saying members were told about the citizen complaints and the process for resolving them.

        “We're not trying to hide anything,” he said. “If they want to look at everything we have, that's fine with us. “It's inaccurate to say they didn't know about it.”

       Jane Prendergast contributed to this report.


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