Mantua Village Council has filed a complaint and initiated an investigation into whether an alleged relationship between the police chief and an officer has resulted in improprieties or conflicts of interest.
In the complaint and in interviews, council members did not name the source or sources of the allegations. And the complaint itself asks dozens of questions without asserting anything.
There is no village policy prohibiting workplace relationships even between superiors and subordinates in the same department.
On Sept. 20, council unanimously voted to file a complaint of employee misconduct to the mayor. In the letter Council President Tammy Meyer wrote on Sept. 27 accompanying the complaint, she referenced allegations of “potential conflicts of interest, wrongdoings, and a lack of transparency” related to “the romantic relationship between Chief Joe Urso and his subordinate, Patrolman [sic] Miranda Brothers.”
On Oct. 18, council hired Dean DePiero, law director for the City of Aurora, to conduct the investigation. DePiero did not return a call seeking comment.
“[Neither] the Mantua Police Department, [n]or any of its officers, will comment on any open investigations,” Urso said in a statement.
Mayor Linda Clark did not answer a question about the cost of the investigation, and council did not specify a budget, according to meeting minutes and documents obtained by The Portager.
Apart from the complaint, which The Portager obtained through a public records request, council members have said little on the record about the investigation, though oblique references have come up during council meetings and rumors are circulating throughout the village, according to meeting minutes and tips from residents to The Portager.
“We do not want to drag people’s names through the mud at this point,” Council Member Steve Thorn said. “We can’t prevent other people from talking, but we’re not going to do that.”
Council’s goal, Meyer wrote in her letter to Clark, was to ensure that village policy and Ohio law are being upheld, that the police department is “free from special treatment,” that village representatives and leaders are modeling the integrity they are sworn to, that council is acting on behalf of Mantua citizens, and that “misuse of village resources, cronyism, and dishonesty” will not be tolerated.
At the center of the complaint are concerns about Brothers’ hiring and promotion, her use of a patrol vehicle and the question of whether she and Urso attempted to conceal any alleged relationship from village leaders.
“It is … alleged that Urso failed to report their relationship, or even denied it when questioned, though [he] made decisions impacting Brothers’ advancement in the department and scheduled vacation time,” Meyer wrote.
Documents in Brothers’ personnel file indicate that on April 6, 2021, the police cruiser Brothers was driving was damaged when she hit a pole while backing out of a driveway. She was written up for it the next day and told to be more careful. Further infractions would result in further discipline, she was informed.
On Feb. 12, while working a security detail at Crestwood High School, Brothers responded to a physical domestic violence call involving an elderly woman outside Mantua village limits. She responded to the call, even though she wasn’t asked to do so, because her son was at that residence, she said in a police report she filed the same day.
“Knowing that my son was at that residence, I instantly notified Dispatch and requested Ptl. Maroni who was working the road, to assist me at the high school” so that she could respond to the call, she wrote.
Brothers hit a deer while returning to Crestwood High School, damaging the cruiser, the report states. According to the police report, she contacted the Ohio State Highway Patrol, which does not require reports involving vehicles and deer.
On Feb. 24, Urso issued Brothers a formal reprimand and suspended her for two days without pay, according to the reprimand letter. But he suspended the punishment on the condition that there be no additional incidents for two years. Urso said Brothers’ decision to respond to the call was understandable.
Council also alleged that Brothers has not completed personal protection training, as required under the terms of her employment.
During its Nov. 15 session, despite being pressed by several audience members, council and Clark declined to say what the investigation will cost Mantua taxpayers. DePiero’s fees will be covered by the village’s general fund, she said.
At the Oct. 18 council meeting, Clark asked if she could add people to be interviewed during the investigation, according to minutes of the meeting. Meyer told her the investigator would be interviewing council members, every employee of the police department and some past employees. The investigation, she said, would branch out from there.
Urso said during that meeting he hoped the investigation would get to “the root of the issue” without relying on hearsay, according to meeting minutes. At that, Council Member Nina Schroeder said the inquiry was to ensure that public money and resources had “not been misused and ethics and transparency” had been upheld.
Urso urged council to approach the source of the allegations, but council ended discussion, saying they had hired an investigator and would rely on his expertise.
Village council is also considering changes to Mantua’s employee handbook that would require job applicants and employees to disclose family and romantic relationships in the workplace.
A draft of the handbook proposes the following language: “It is particularly important that village employees guard against relationships, which might be construed as evidence of favoritism, coercion, unfair advantage, or collusion. While not prohibited, questions of fairness and impartiality may arise in certain situations. Furthermore, such relationships may present impropriety to the public.”
Wendy DiAlesandro is a former Record Publishing Co. reporter and contributing writer for The Portager.