Investigation finds Mantua police chief violated department policy

Mantua Police Department. Lyndsey Brennan/The Portager

An independent investigator concluded that Mantua Police Chief Joseph Urso violated police department policies by directly supervising an officer with whom he is in a romantic relationship, according to a March 22 report.

The investigation found that while nothing in state law or Village of Mantua employee policies prohibits personal relationships among staff, the village’s police department policy manual forbids employees from directly supervising a person they are dating.

Urso and the officer, Miranda Brothers, each disputed the report’s conclusions and said they would be consulting with their attorneys.

In October, Mantua Village Council hired attorney Dean DePierro, the law director for the City of Aurora, to examine allegations of favoritism by Urso toward Brothers, who joined the force in January 2020.

DePierro didn’t find any evidence of favoritism (in fact, he said it’s possible “the chief is actually more stringent with Brothers,” he wrote). But he did describe a timeline of events that implicates Urso in key promotion and disciplinary decisions related to Brothers’ employment subsequent to the beginning of their relationship, the report states.

That conclusion hinges on DePierro’s assessment that Urso and Brothers became more than friends after a September 2021 motorcycle trip. DePierro reported that Urso disclosed his relationship to Mantua Mayor Linda Clark sometime around that same month. 

Beginning in November 2021, Urso was part of a panel that recommended Brothers for a promotion to full-time employment. And in February 2022, Urso was involved in a disciplinary action against Brothers for colliding with a deer in her cruiser, the report states. 

DePierro called these clear violations of the department policy, saying one of the two sergeants in the department should have performed these supervisory functions.

DePierro also wrote that Brothers violated department policy by failing to notify the sergeants about her relationship with Urso.

Urso said he disagrees with DePierro’s report, which he said contains discrepancies but declined to specify them. He said he will follow up with his attorney, Wesley Buchanan of Akron.

“I just don’t agree with the final report,” Brothers said. “My attorney was in my interview with DePierro. I have to consult with my attorney, Jim Eskridge of Ravenna, regarding some of the statements in the report.”

Brothers said she did not seek employment elsewhere when the relationship started because, “I love my community.” 

Brothers and Urso also contested a key element of the report, saying their relationship is not and was not that of “boyfriend and girlfriend.”

In a press release last month, Buchanan called the investigation a politically motivated “witch hunt” and accused Village Council President Tammy Meyer of using the issue to propel herself to the mayor’s office. He also said Meyer was Brothers’ landlord, which he said is a conflict of interest that Meyer has not disclosed. 

Meyer declined to comment on the report beyond saying, “I think the report speaks for itself, and now it’s in the mayor’s hands to decide what happens going forward,” she said.

Meyer also said she is not Brothers’ landlord. Rather, she works for a company that handles paperwork for the three owners of the building Brothers lives in, but she herself has no ownership, she said.

Clark declined comment, stating that she and council would need time to review DePierro’s report. Council will address the matter during its April 18 meeting, she said.

Because council members may legally address discipline of public employees in closed session, discussions relating to Urso and Brothers may take place privately.

DePierro concluded his report with several recommendations, including disciplinary action against Urso and Brothers, ethics training for all village employees, village policy updates and a clearer chain of command for Brothers. 

“It is vitally important that leadership and members of a law enforcement agency avoid conflicts of interest and do everything that they can to avoid even the appearance of impropriety in all matters involving their work activities,” DePierro wrote.

Council has not yet received DePierro’s final bill. His contract with the village stipulates his pay at $190 an hour.

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Wendy DiAlesandro is a former Record Publishing Co. reporter and contributing writer for The Portager.