Mayor fires suspended chief's wife

By Deanna Hohler Bottar Record-Courier staff writ Published:

Suspended Ravenna Police Chief Michael Swartout's wife was fired Monday from her position as a Ravenna police dispatcher for allegedly tapping into departmental phone conversations concerning an investigation into alleged misconduct involving her husband.

Lisa M. Swartout, 29, was fired by Ravenna Mayor Paul Jones Monday afternoon. Mrs. Swartout's termination was a result of recommendations made by Capt. Randall McCoy, who is acting police chief in Swartout's absence; five police sergeants; and Service Director Don Kainrad, who served as the hearing officer at a predisciplinary meeting.

Mrs. Swartout, who could be charged with a felony count of interception of wire, oral or electronic communications, declined comment this morning.

"There is certainly a lot of headline grabbing with only part of the story being told," Michael Swartout said. "That's not fair or just. It's simply not right. And I don't think the majority of people in this community like it very much. I don't believe due process has been followed in this situation."

Chief Swartout was suspended with pay in late December when the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation and Identification was called in to investigate allegations of possible criminal misconduct against him. Their report was filed with Portage County Prosecutor Victor Vigluicci who will determine if criminal charges should be filed.

The investigation stemmed from an off-duty gathering of Ravenna police officers Dec. 4 at Officer Jerry Giulitto's Rootstown residence. At the gathering, Swartout reportedly fired at least two shots from his police firearm. No one was injured during the incident.

Allegations also include Swartout purchasing alcohol at a Ravenna drive-thru while in a police cruiser driven by an on-duty officer.

According to court records, Swartout and his wife were married April 3, 1997 _ after Mrs. Swartout was hired at the department. Jones said the city does not have a policy concerning whether married city employees can work together in the same office.

Mrs. Swartout, who was employed at the police department in part- and full-time positions for about 2 1/2 years, is accused of listening to a departmental phone call between McCoy and Patrolman Kevin Lafferty Feb. 4.

McCoy described hearing "clicks and/or muffle-type sounds like someone was covering up the phone and listening in," he wrote in a police report.

McCoy advised another officer to check the radio room to see who was there and if someone was listening. "Lisa Swartout was the only person on station and alone in the radio room," the report says.

The conversation between McCoy and Lafferty took place at 10:30 p.m. and involved a discussion of a separate alleged incident involving Mrs. Swartout. Lafferty told McCoy Mrs. Swartout allowed her husband's son, John, access to the police department the morning of Feb. 4.

"John Swartout ... came into the building and approached Patrolman Giulitto concerning the ongoing internal investigation of the chief and other officers," McCoy wrote in his report.

Mrs. Swartout also is accused of stopping the 911 recording machine for two hours on Jan. 12 to allegedly listen to other phone calls made at the department.

"No communications (were) recorded for over two hours from around 9 p.m. to 11 p.m.," McCoy wrote in his report.

Jones said 911 calls were answered at the department during the time the recording machine was off, but they were not taped like they normally are for liability purposes.

"There obviously are some people within this police department that are on a path of self-destruction, but they are not going to bring down a whole department that for the most part is a good department," Jones said. "Right now, we are procedurally making sure that our internal investigation is conducted in a fair and impartial way.

"The time will come when we will act to discipline those individuals that have lessened the department's credibility," Jones continued. "When that time comes, I can assure the Ravenna taxpayer that these individuals will be dealt with in a swift and just manner, and confidence in this department will in the end be restored."

An internal investigation into whether officers at the Dec. 4 gathering violated departmental rules and regulations has been forwarded to Jones. All of the officers involved in the gathering, except Swartout, have been interviewed, Jones said.

Cleveland attorney Gary Johnson has been hired to oversee the internal investigation. He will question Swartout concerning the information revealed in that probe, Jones said.

"We felt it appropriate that we try to be as objective and impartial and fair about this investigation as possible," Jones said. "Swartout's interviews shouldn't be done by our own men. It's inappropriate to have the same personnel do those interviews."

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