Police officer receives letter of discipline from superiors

Leslie Arntz

WATCH video of the incident.

A Kent City Police officer has been disciplined after an internal investigation determined his comments to a man in custody were unprofessional.

Police Chief James Peach wrote a letter of reprimand to Lt. John Altomare regarding his treatment of Sly E. Parham during his May 17 booking. Altomare was counseled about the incident and his actions were recorded for the performance appraisal at the end of the year.

According to a Nov. 9 report from Peach to City Manager Dave Ruller, the FBI contacted Peach during the week of May 25, the same week Francesca Brumley requested video surveillance of her son’s booking. She gave the video to Richard Jones, president of the Cleveland chapter of the Rev. Al Sharpton’s National Action Network, who posted the video on YouTube and www.freechrismiller.com Nov. 5.

In the Kent police’s internal review of the incident, it was determined that the level of force used was within the perimeters set by the department’s Use of Force Policy.

“What was not acceptable was your unprofessional and demanding comments to the prisoner when force was being used on him. Your actions were demeaning, and were in violation of the police department’s rules for treatment of prisoners in custody,” Peach wrote in the Nov. 7 letter of reprimand placed in Altomare’s file.

Parham, 24, was arrested for menacing by stalking. According to police reports, he was ordered several times to remove his property from his pockets. After insisting the police empty his pockets for him, officers ordered Parham to place his hands on the wall. He initially complied, and then pulled away. An officer observed he was still resisting, so he used a Taser on Parham’s upper back. Parham dropped to the floor, and officers held him there until he became compliant.

At this point, an officer begins yelling at Parham.

Officer: Do you understand who runs this place?

Parham: Yes.

Officer: It’s not you is it?

Parham: Why wouldn’t I?

Officer: Who runs this place?

Parham: The Kent Police Department …

Officer: Who runs it?

Parham: You.

Officer: You, sir!

“This is an incident that happened over six months ago,” Peach said in an interview. “It’s not new news. It’s been dealt with.”

Peach said the department has been saturated with calls concerning the video.

“The recent publicity of the incident has caused embarrassment to the Kent Police Department and a loss of confidence by some members of the community,” Peach wrote in his letter to Altomare. “Therefore, this letter of discipline will serve as a strong reminder to you that your actions as a police officer and supervisor can have a lasting impact on the welfare of the police department and of the Kent community.

“Any further incidents of this type of inappropriate behavior will result in significant progressive discipline.”

Peach and Capt. Michelle Lee have met with agents from the Akron office of the FBI regarding the recent complaints against the department. The internal investigation revealed no wrong-doing, with the exception of Altomare. Peach said the FBI will inform Kent police of their findings after the preliminary inquiry is complete.

“We’re closing the door on the issue,” Peach said. “Soon there will be no further comment. We’d like to move on. It’s a detriment to the department and the entire community.”

Scott Wilson, a special agent with the Cleveland division of the FBI confirmed a preliminary inquiry into the department. If the initial information gathered warrants further investigation, it will be sent to the justice department.

“It’s not a full-blown investigation,” Wilson said.

At last night’s Kent City Council meeting, Ward 4 Councilman John Kuhar asked that a civilian-run police oversight committee be formed. He expressed concern about the attention Kent gets when he doesn’t see the same issues in other university towns.

“I do think there’s a problem. Not necessarily fault, but a problem,” Kuhar said. “There’s been enough incidents that we’re concerned about that kind of publicity.”

However, other council members did not think an oversight committee was the right solution.

“That oversight committee sits right here,” Ward 5 Councilman Ed Bargerstock said. “This is a disaster in the making.”

Others had concerns about civilians being unknowledgeable about the inner workings and policies of a police department. Ward 3 Councilman Wayne Wilson expressed confidence in the internal system of checks and balances the police use within the department.

The motion failed, 1-7.

Contact public affairs reporter Leslie Arntz at [email protected].