Brimfield plans to move on after police chief investigation


Former Brimfield Police Chief David Oliver

Katie Nix

It took a little more than a week for the country — and a large Internet following — to see there were two sides to Brimfield Township’s longest-serving police chief.

The first indicator that there were two versions of Chief David Oliver came Jan. 13 when it was announced he would take a two-week, unpaid suspension.

The cause? A female officer in the department had filed a gender discrimination claim against him.

“We had an outside investigator come in and take a look at the claims that were being made,” township attorney Gregory Beck said. “We had to make sure there was no bias involved when looking into what was being said.”

In a post that same day on the Brimfield Police Department Facebook page, which had about 177,000 likes, Oliver wrote that he accepted the punishment, did not feel as though he was above the rules and would soon return to the force.

However, three days later on Jan. 16, the social media guru announced he would be retiring after more than 20 years on the force, citing medical reasons that Beck later identified as post-traumatic stress disorder, a result of his police involvement in the 2005 deaths of Renee Bauer, 42, Dakota Bauer, 7, and Sarah Positano, 22.

“Most of the officers were crying when they saw Positano’s body,” said Mike Kostensky, chairman of the board for the Brimfield Trustees. “It’s not just something you get over.”

Brimfield Trustee Charles Sprague said Oliver’s history on the drug task force also could have had an effect on the PTSD.

“That’s something that’s very intense,” Sprague said. “(The PTSD is) a health issue. Most officers retire after about 20 to 25 years, and Oliver did that.”

Oliver posted on the department’s Facebook page, “I cannot say a lot, with the exception that I am retiring as Chief of Police for Brimfield.”

 Community conversations

In the Jan. 16 post, Oliver went on to refute the claims of harassment being made on local media sites.

“Folks, I am a hugger and a laugher,” Oliver wrote. “I have hugged every employee in that building more than once. I usually hug everyone I meet. I believe life is fun. People have stopped into the department from lots of different states for hugs.”

Brimfield Police Capt. Chris Adkins, who was acting as Oliver’s replacement during the suspension, later deactivated the department’s Facebook and Twitter pages, stating there were things he couldn’t comment on and did not believe that Facebook was the proper medium.

“This is a page for the Brimfield Police Department and it is here for providing information to our citizens and to give them a forum to engage with their police department,” Adkins wrote. “The page will not be going anywhere; it is an asset. However, we cannot use it to its full potential if we are fighting through a war of comments and arguing amongst followers. With the way things have been going, reasonable concerns or questions will get lost in the crowd.”

The announcement of retirement was made following speculation that the chief would be resigning sometime on Friday, Jan. 16.

At an emergency meeting of the Brimfield Township Trustees that Friday afternoon, Adkins was appointed the interim chief of the department, and township citizens voiced their concerns about the chief’s sudden departure.

“It’s evident that something negative happened regarding the board of trustees,” township resident Tarus Latacki said. “We have the best police department and information flow in the community and police.”

Latacki said he understood this situation put the board in a hard place but wished that the full two weeks had been taken to talk about Oliver’s future with the township in a calm, cool manner.

Darlene Mettler, a resident of Brimfield for more than 30 years, said she loved and thought the world of Oliver.

“It’s a sad day for Brimfield,” she said. “But it was his choice to leave.”

Oliver’s other side

However, according to a Jan. 17 article from the Akron Beacon Journal, Officer Crystal Casterline recounted several problems she encountered while working under Oliver including: the chief’s questions of whether she had performed oral sex to an African-American man; off-color sexual jokes about a dead Kent State football; daily, unwanted hugs; punches to the thigh that cause Casterline to seek medical attention; and vulgar language directed at herself and other officers.

“There was two sides to Chief Oliver,” former officer Bill Atha said. “There was the guy who was out in the open, hugging everybody, shaking hands, patting everybody on the back and being very nice. And then there was the administrator, the manager of the Brimfield Police Department and how he dealt with us officers. And in that grade, he flunked.”

Atha, who currently works for the Kent State Police Department, said that, as the union representative for the department, he occasionally got into arguments with Oliver regarding union violations.

“He got upset,” Atha said. “He cursed. He swore. He threatened. I got into it with him. I went home and told my wife, and she started crying. She told me ‘You need to go apologize to him or you’re going to lose your job.’”

After the article about Casterline’s interactions with Oliver was published and more officers, including Atha and others, began to come forward about their experiences, public opinion of the former chief swayed in the other direction, even for the Brimfield board of trustees.

Kostensky, who said at the emergency meeting on Jan. 16 that he believed Oliver was a good chief even amid the allegations, later clarified.

“He was a good community chief,” Kostensky said. “Look at all of the children he’s impacted who aren’t afraid of the police anymore. The man who interacted with residents was a good chief. Then there was the other side who made his officers scared of him. Dave did a lot of good for Brimfield; no one can take that away from him, but being a manager and a friend to the public are two different things.”

Kostensky also said Adkins had really been the leader of the department for much longer than the last week.

“There were definitely issues with as quickly as we were going through officers,” Kostensky said. “We need stability. We also need to stop bashing Crystal (Casterline). It takes one person to stop things and we need to thank her for what she did.”

Further fallout and investigation

Oliver’s fall from grace also included the cancellation of his radio show on WNIR.

Bill Klaus, CEO of the station, released a statement Jan. 22 saying, “The weekend program ‘Breaking Good with Chief Oliver’ on WNIR has been discontinued. A variety of programs from the Talk Radio Network will air from 7 to 10 p.m. while we restructure our Saturday and Sunday night program line-up.”

Oliver’s show, which had been on the air since July 2014, was placed on hiatus Jan. 15.

A major point of contention in the township was the revelation that the outside investigation of Oliver’s conduct cost $8,100 of taxpayer money and that township citizens do not have access to the reports.

“We had to ensure there would be confidentiality,” Beck said. “The investigation is not available to the public because we promised to protect the identities of the officers that came forward to speak against the chief.”

Beck also said the investigation was so expensive because of how many testimonies the investigator had to take.

“I recommended an outside investigator,” Beck said. “Normally, that investigator would take maybe 10 hours and interview people. But in this case, it was almost four times that.”

Kostensky said he could not have put a price on how valuable the investigation was to the township.

“I would have spent $16,000,” Kostensky said. “You can’t have police investigate police. You have a popular chief, and you have people that are in department who are scared to work with him. The township needs to look at the larger picture. They think they know the full story, but they don’t at all.”

Here’s a look at Oliver’s time in Brimfield:

Toggle left and right to see the former chief’s tenure while at the Brimfield Police Department.

Residents speak out

While the cost of the investigation is a point of contention between township citizens and the board of trustees, many people feel the town needs to focus on moving forward.

Nellie Slepoy, 91, of Brimfield, spoke out in favor of the investigation at the township’s regularly scheduled meeting on Jan. 21.

“I personally don’t care that it was an $8,100 investigation,” Slepoy said. “We needed to bring someone in here that didn’t have any axe to grind at all.

Slepoy went on to talk about how the citizens of the township should focus on rebuilding the community.

“We need to put every bit of this behind us. Let’s just try to go on and build a good community from the mistakes that have been made, and we’ve got nowhere to go but up,” she said. “We don’t have to go back. We don’t have to put up with anything anymore.”

 A new department

Adkins said the police department would also like keeping the past in the past.

“Nothing changes,” Adkins said. “We continue doing the job we’ve always done. There are no changes in our community programs. We continue to do all of our community programs. And we continue doing what we’ve always done for Brimfield.”

Township executive Robert Keller, who will now oversee the operations of the department, said part of the first step is to sit down with Adkins.

“My intent would be to sit down with Capt. Adkins and look at the department’s structure and see if he wants to change that moving forward,” Keller said.

However, Sprague said the board would like to retain as many of Oliver’s community programs as possible.

“We’re going to continue all of the programs that was can,” Sprague said. “We know what they mean to the community.”

Additionally, the township itself will undergo some new “training.”

“One of the things the board decided to do is retrain the whole township, so we have a better understanding of how important diversity is, how important discrimination is and how we should not tolerate it at any level,” Beck said.

Beck went on to say that no criminal charges are being filed against Oliver, but Casterline has options including filing a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission or filing a claim under Ohio law, neither of which have been done.

Oliver said in his Jan. 16 post that he plans to keep his followers updated on his next move, which he was “sure will not be in law enforcement.”

Contact Katie Nix at [email protected].