Thursday, April 18, 2002

Teens' alleged plot stuns small town

New Miami appreciates its police

By Janice Morse,
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        NEW MIAMI — Police Sgt. Patrick Fackey said would-be teen-age assassins had a brazen plot — they planned to arm themselves, set up an ambush at police headquarters, then open fire on Chief Duane Pelfrey as he drove up to report for duty.

        The allegations of a murder plot have stunned this blue-collar village in Butler County, where authorities on Wednesday said they had charged five suspects, ages 15 to 19, including at least one who might belong to a gang called the “New Miami 007.” Police and prosecutors gave no other information about the alleged gang.

[photo] At Red's Hamburgers in New Miami, John Bachmann, 55, (right) and other regulars talked over the alleged plot to kill the town's police chief.
(Michael Snyder photo)
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        Many of New Miami's 2,500 residents have lived here all their lives; typically, local news comes by word-of-mouth, not from newspapers, TV and radio. Patrons at Red's Hamburgers, the local hangout, on Wednesday said they heard about the alleged conspiracy “through the grapevine” before media reported on it.

        Linda Burns, 61, a cook and waitress there since 1968, said: “(People) are just glad these kids were stopped before they could go through with it.”

        The conspiracy allegations — and accompanying media attention — presents another burden for a community already suffering from eyesores, political infighting and financial woes. But Sgt. Fackey said one positive effect has emerged: greater support for the police department, which Village Council had considered abolishing a year ago.

        “People are telling us they appreciate the work that we do, that they know our jobs are dangerous and they wouldn't do them for a million dollars,” he said.

        But the police chief does his job for $15 an hour; Sgt. Fackey, $12.50. Auxiliary officers are paid even less: $30 per 8-hour shift — the lowest-paid employees on the village payroll.

        “They do the most important job in the village, and they're paid the least,” said Village Councilwoman Krystal Murray.

        Sgt. Fackey said the fact that the eight-officer force was able to snuff out the alleged plan shows the force has a good network to help make the community safer for everyone.

        “I don't want to say we have our finger on the pulse of the community,” he said, “but we can hear the heartbeat.”

        Sgt. Fackey credits a juvenile for telling him and Chief Pelfrey about the plan. Although the idea sounded far-fetched at first, many interviews corroborated the plot — and revealed a “fairly in-depth” plan to kill the chief, Sgt. Fackey said.

        The suspects include three 16-year-olds and a 15-year-old who are being held in the Butler Juvenile Detention Center. Prosecutors have said they want to try the youths as adults; a hearing is set for Monday in the county Juvenile Court.

        The fifth suspect is Samuel Harrison, 19. He was arrested last week on a burglary charge; a conspiracy to commit murder charge was added Monday.

        He remained in the county jail Wednesday; his bond is $100,000 cash.

        Chief Pelfrey is taking a few days off as the investigation continues. It was unclear Wednesday whether any more arrests would follow.

        Although the chief has said he doesn't know why the teens were out to get him, Ms. Burns said she thinks it's because he's enforcing laws more stringently than they'd like.

        Police say the youths had no outside interests. That's noteworthy, said Lt. Col. Dave Grossman, an Arkansas anti-violence lecturer and author.

        “When a kid is involved in nothing, what's filling the gap is probably television, movies and video games” — diversions that frequently teach kids that “the cops aren't the good guys,” he said.

        Current levels of youth violence are unprecedented, he said, and “Increasingly, we're seeing that cops are the targets, or people in authority.” But he added: “Going after the chief is ... new.”

        Sgt. Fackey said he hopes outsiders realize “the attitudes of those (accused) individuals are not a reflection of the majority of youth in the village.”

        But regulars at Red's say they're disturbed, about this case and about perceived crime trends in their hometown.

        “I've lived here all my life, and things have really changed. It's not even safe to go out at night, with all these little gangs we've got running around,” said Marlene Bowyer, 38, a Red's employee, as she took a break from preparing eggs and sausage on the grill.

        Another Red's regular, Bob Diefenbacher, New Miami's police chief for 26 years until 1990, said, “In a small town like this, you don't want to believe that kind of stuff can happen; you don't expect it. But, really, this could happen any place.”

        Mr. Diefenbacher's son, Mike, expressed gratitude to the person who revealed the plot: “I'd like to say, "Congratulations. I'm proud of you for sticking up for what's right, and for our police.'”


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