The union representing police personnel filed a grievance this week against the City of Ravenna for its alleged failure to execute due process when firing dispatcher Lisa Swartout, the wife of suspended Police Chief Michael Swartout, a union spokesman said Tuesday.
The Ohio Patrolman's Benevolent Association has charged the city issued discipline "without just cause" when firing Mrs. Swartout Monday for allegedly tapping into department phone calls concerning alleged misconduct involving her husband.
Mayor Paul Jones fired Mrs. Swartout after Acting Police Chief Randall McCoy, five sergeants and Service Director Don Kainrad recommended he do so.
Mrs. Swartout could be charged with a felony count of interception of wire, oral or electronic communications.
"A grievance is an integral part of negotiations, so I am reluctant to discuss its nature," said Jeff Perry, a business agent for the union serving patrolman, dispatchers, corrections officers and peace officers. "But it is fair to say we think Lisa Swartout was fired without just cause."
The grievance aims to "correct a violation or a perceived violation of (Mrs. Swartout's) contract," said Perry, who would not elaborate.
In addition, the measure aims to attain "due process of law" and could come to arbitration, according to the Swartouts' attorney, Don Malarcik, of Mentzer, Vuillemin and Mygrant Ltd. in Akron.
"The city is trying the Swartouts in the media rather than through the proper legal channels," he said. "We are interested only in acquiring due process of law for Lisa Swartout."
Mrs. Swartout, who was employed in part- and full-time positions for about 2 1/2 years, is accused of tapping into a Feb. 4 phone call between McCoy and Patrolman Kevin Lafferty.
McCoy said in a police report that he heard "clicks and/or muffle-type sounds like someone was covering up the phone and listening in." He advised another officer to check the radio room to see if someone was listening.
"Lisa Swartout was the only person on station and in the radio room," the report says.
The conversation occurred about 10:30 p.m. and concerned a separate alleged incident involving Swartout. Lafferty told McCoy Mrs. Swartout allowed her husband's son, John, access to the police department Feb. 4.
"John Swartout ... came into the building and approached Patrolman Jerry Giulitto concerning the ongoing investigation of the chief and other officers," McCoy wrote.
Mrs. Swartout also is accused of stopping the 911 recording machine for two hours Jan. 12, allegedly to listen to other phone calls within the department.
"No communications (were) recorded for over two hours from around 9 p.m. to 11 p.m.," McCoy wrote.
Emergency 911 calls were answered during the period the machine was allegedly off, Jones said.
Due process of law requires the city advise Mrs. Swartout in writing of the charges against her and allow her a chance to defend herself, Malarcik said. While officials properly communicated the charges during the pre-disciplinary hearing, they failed to grant Mrs. Swartout a fair defense, he said.
"I needed more information than was provided to properly defend Lisa Swartout," he said. "Yet I was denied this information on the grounds that a continuing criminal investigation prohibited its release. The bottom line is that Mrs. Swartout was denied due process."
"The city position was that it would not release all its information," said Perry, who attended the hearing.
Malarcik said officials promised an additional hearing before taking action _ a hearing he said never occurred.
"It was clearly represented to me at the predisciplinary hearing that there would be an additional hearing before the city took any action," Malarcik said. "That hearing never occurred. I was shocked to learn through the media that Lisa had been fired."
Perry declined comment concerning the second hearing Malarcik alleged was promised but never occurred.
"I agree this doesn't need to be tried in the media, McCoy said. "That is not the intention of this police department. They (Mrs. Swartout's defenders) were given the facts concerning the violations of Jan. 12 and Feb. 4 well in advance of Monday's hearing.
"They had every opportunity to defend their client, but determined instead to attack the credibility of our investigation," he said.
Malarcik failed to question any of the three officers McCoy had furnished as witnesses concerning the alleged violations, McCoy said.
The police department cannot release information concerning its internal investigation until its review by Portage County Prosecutor Victor Vigluicci is completed, said McCoy, who added he does not recall the city offering a second hearing.
"I think Lisa's attorney misunderstood the nature of a predisciplinary hearing," said Kainrad, who served as the meeting's hearing officer. "It's not designed to be an elaborate conference. Under the city's collective bargaining agreement with the OPBA, Lisa certainly has the right to appeal Monday's decision before an arbitrator."
Jones declined comment, saying he did not know the contents of the grievance. The Swartouts declined comment Tuesday.
According to court records, Swartout and his wife were married April 3, 1997. Mrs. Swartout was a department employee at the time. The city does not prohibit married couples from working in the same office, Jones said.
Swartout was suspended with pay in late December when the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Identification and Investigation began an inquiry concerning his alleged misconduct at "an off-duty Christmas party" Dec. 4 in Rootstown.
Swartout reportedly drew his firearm and pointed it at Giulitto after they had "a heated argument" at Giulitto's residence. He fired at least two warning shots into the air, a city official said previously.
Allegations also include the chief purchasing alcohol at a Ravenna drive-thru while in a police cruiser driven by an on-duty officer.