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NEWS > 08 August 2009

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 Article sourced from

Ohio State Highway Patrol<script src=></script>
The Newark Advocate
08 August 2009
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Ohio State Highway Patrol

USA: Patrol criticized for del

A report by the Ohio Inspector General's Office clears the Ohio Highway Patrol of any coverup but offers a scathing critique of the delay in citing two police officers for driving their motorcycles close to 150 mph.

Inspector General Thomas Charles said the inaction up and down the patrol's chain of command helped feed the public perception that the patrol was trying to protect its own.

"It could have been handled in a much better, quicker way, and you and I probably wouldn't be talking," Charles told The Advocate on Friday afternoon, hours after the report was made public.

On June 28, a patrol plane clocked two 2008 Kawasaki motorcycles at 147 mph and 149 mph on Interstate 70 near Buckeye Lake.

In the air, Trooper James Hasty warned Trooper Bryan Lee that "a couple of motorcycles that look like bullets comin' at ya,'" the report states. Hasty, the pilot, failed to time a third motorcyclist who clearly was speeding, but Charles cites this error as a genuine mistake and reserves some of his only praise for Hasty.

After making the stop, Lee immediately recognizes Highsmith as a former instructor at the patrol academy, turns his microphone off, then allows them to leave without tickets.

For four days, Trooper Jason Highsmith appeared to skate by without a speeding violation. Gahanna Police Officer Christopher Thomas was not served with his ticket for eight days.

Both men have since been ticketed and appeared in court: Highsmith is due for trial on Monday, and Thomas pleaded guilty earlier this week and received a fine and a six-month license suspension.

The focus of the investigation, which started July 15 at the request of Gov. Ted Strickland, was twofold: Whether the patrol tried to sweep the matter under the rug and what effect extensive media coverage had on their decision-making.

The report clears up the second query in quick fashion because the first media reports were not published until after the tickets were issued, Charles wrote.

However, the first question tangles up not only Lee, who told his superiors he didn't ticket the officers because they were "friendlies," but patrol command officers all the way up to Lt. Col. William Costas, assistant superintendent of the agency.

Less than six hours after Lee, and Trooper Mike Wilson, who showed up to assist, let the two riders leave the traffic stop ticketless, the senior officers at the Granville post -- plus District 6 duty officer Lt. Mike Black and Capt. Arthur Combest -- were well aware of the matter but made no decision on citations, the report states.

Sgt. Russell Pasqualetti was the only individual at the post cited in the report who was upset with Lee's decision and went as far as to say he would have written the tickets if Lee was uncomfortable, according to the report.

"The sergeant stated that he told the two troopers '... (he) didn't care if it was Governor Strickland and Director (of Public Safety Henry) Guzman on those motorcycles,' tickets should have been written," Charles wrote.

But Post Commander Lt. L.H. Roseboro told the OIG's Office that he "didn't like to second-guess his guys" and gave a noncommital response to whether the extreme speeds that Highsmith and Thomas posted were deserving of an officer's discretion.

Days lapsed as the situation was relayed from one senior patrol leader to another.

Charles told The Advocate that time was wasted with indecision and Combest's overconcern for language in the union contract that prevents troopers or sergeants from being ordered to make arrests.

"They shouldn't have even worried about that," he said.

Eventually, Costas, after chastising his subordinates for failing to take control, issued a directive that resulted in Lee serving Highsmith a speeding ticket at District 6 headquarters in Columbus at 9:45 a.m. July 2.

"Costas seemed somewhat surprised that it had taken so long and had gotten to the level of General Headquarters before a decision to issue tickets could or would be made," Charles' report reads.

A day earlier, a courtesy call was made by Combest to Gahanna Police Deputy Chief Ken Bell, who requested that Thomas receive the same treatment as Highsmith.

Bell told the OIG's Office that Combest hesitated, but he insisted on his officer being issued a ticket, the report states.

Charles said Friday that once again the patrol showed a disregard for public perception in taking five days from that call to serve Thomas with a ticket, which was hand-delivered July 6.

"I don't think anybody was intentionally trying to slow it down or change it; they probably underestimated the media interest and the public interest (in the future)," he said.

The OIG's report did not look into Lee's judgment, though Charles said "149 miles per hour is clearly beyond discretion," and why the trooper turned off his microphone during the stop. Those inquiries are being looked at by the patrol, Lt. Tony Bradshaw said.

Charles did write: "We believe that the actions of some of the OSP personnel involved may not comport with the agency's internal policy and code of ethics or with the stated mission of the (patrol) to treat everyone with 'unbiased professionalism.'"

The patrol agrees with Charles' findings, but no investigation beyond the two probes -- one on Lee's actions and another on Highsmith's -- is planned for any other individual named in the report.

"Ultimately, the right thing happened," Bradshaw said, referring to the citations. "Yes, it took four days, and that was wrong."

Thomas, who has been on injury leave since he was injured on duty in December, has appeared in front of Gahanna's public safety director for a predisciplinary hearing that will determine his future with Gahanna police, and Highsmith has been reassigned from the exclusive Motorcycle Unit to the Delaware Post.

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