Tuesday, May 20, 2003

Chief's arrest has Mason talking

Controversial judge went too far, some say

By Erica Solvig
and Sheila McLaughlin
The Cincinnati Enquirer

MASON - A dispute with the municipal judge that led to the arrest of Mason's police chief has city leaders speaking out against the judge's action and residents wondering aloud why they can't just get along.

In the latest conflict between Judge George Parker and city officials, Parker had his bailiffs arrest Mason Police Chief Ron Ferrell on Thursday evening after Ferrell rejected a judge's order to deliver an inmate from the Warren County jail in Lebanon. Ferrell, who pleaded not guilty to the misdemeanor charges and was released on his own recognizance, argues that the police department does not have enough staff to be a transport service.

"It's a deliberate attempt to exercise control over the Mason Police Department and set a precedent," councilman Dick Staten said. "As far as I'm concerned, the court security is a matter for the courts to handle and not the Mason Police Department's or the city of Mason's. It's absolutely personal."

The situation has caused quite the buzz in this fast-growing city.

"Everyone was talking about it," said Mary Pickering, a counter clerk at Busken bakery in downtown Mason, where the chief frequently gets goodies for his staff. "(Ferrell) is such a nice guy. Everyone loves him up here."

"The political stand is worth more than the unity," Mason resident Bryan Crowley said. "That's disturbing."

Some residents declined to give their names out of concern that they might have to face Judge Parker in court one day.

Parker has been at odds with the city several times since taking the bench just over a year ago. He's battled City Council to gain more staff with higher salaries, and has argued with Ferrell over who should provide courtroom security.

Roughly two months ago, the Municipal Court reported a sharp drop in the number of traffic tickets written by state troopers after local police complained Parker treated them disrespectfully.

Mason Mayor John McCurley said Monday that the chief was simply following city policy and shouldn't have been arrested: "I'm appalled at the charge."

City Councilman Victor Kidd added: "It's a black eye to the community. I think our police chief has a lot of class. I think it's unfortunate that it came to that."

Since the arrest, Ferrell has been fielding phone calls and e-mails from supporters. He lamented that his arrest upset his family, but believes he did what was right.

"I felt like I was standing up for the officers. It was the right thing to do," Ferrell said. "I'm not trying to make a statement. I'm just trying to do my job."

He will go court May 29 before Parker, who does not have to excuse himself from the case. The chief could be fined or sent to jail until he complies with the order.

Mason Prosecutor Robert Peeler has said he will not prosecute the case against Ferrell because it would be a conflict of interest. He is asking a Warren County assistant prosecutor to handle the case.

Mason's law director has advised Ferrell only to transport inmates who were charged by Mason police, and City Manager Scot Lahrmer has said the city would not change its policy.

What should change, according to long-time resident Eldon Loveless, is the way the court communicates. "There ought to be a better communication system between our leaders so that it doesn't come to this," the 71-year-old said as he ate lunch at a downtown Chinese restaurant. "To say Parker is wrong or the police chief is wrong, well, they've both been around long enough to be adults about it."

E-mail esolvig@enquirer.com and smclaughlin@enquirer.com

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