Heading Logo


Sheriff not offering harassment prevention training

Doak defends Missimi investigation

By MATTHEW MERCHANT Staff Writer Published: July 2, 2017 4:00 AM
  • 1 of 1 Photos | View More Photos

Portage County employees have not received any regular training on preventing sexual harassment in the workplace for at least a decade, according to elected officials interviewed by the Record-Courier.

The county also does not have a standard, unified code of conduct or personnel policy for employees.

Instead, elected officials, including Sheriff David Doak, have the ability to create and enforce his or her own policy and offer training sessions at their sole discretion.

Sheriff's Maj. Dennis Missimi resigned May 22 after allegations of sexual harassment involving two women were corroborated by an internal investigation that claimed Missimi's alleged reputation for sexually explicit behavior was well known in the workplace. Missimi was not interviewed, nor was a formal internal hearing process started. Instead, Doak met with Missimi in private and offered him the option to resign instead of firing him.

The county did begin offering training to its 1,277 employees this year, but Human Resources Director Janet Kovick can't require all employees to attend.

[Article continues below]

The Board of Commissioners has the only HR department among all county officials. Kovick, who leads that office, said that while she would like there to be a single department over all county employees, the reality is much different.

"I serve as director for only the board of commissioners employees. However, if an elected official needs assistance they do come to me. If they do have a complaint or an issue, they can come to me," Kovick said.

In the Missimi case, there was a 5-month delay between the first complaint of harassment to Lt. Greg Johnson, who did not tell Doak about the situation, and the start of Johnson's official investigation in May.

When asked about the delay, Kovick said the way the Missimi complaint was handled was highly unusual, especially for something as serious as sexual harassment.

"If one of the commissioners' employees were to file a complaint with me, I would immediately begin an investigation," she said.

[Article continues below]

Doak defended his department's actions, noting law enforcement functions more as a paramilitary agency and does not follow normal civilian personnel procedures.

"There is an expectation here that you're going to follow orders and follow procedures and policies," Doak said. "But you look at the (policy) manual and you think you're going to have that committed to memory? I don't think so. All you've got to do is use logic and common sense."

The sheriff's policy and procedures manual, last updated in 2014, specifically forbids sexual, gender-based, racial and other forms of harassment. It also outlines the reporting procedure and disciplinary actions, including a warning, suspension, demotion, transfer probation or referral to the prosecutor's office for consideration of criminal charges.

An administrator like Missimi would be familiar with the contents of the policy, Doak said.

"You've got to be well aware of everything that's in that book, particularly in a management position," he said.

Doak said if Missimi had denied the allegations and Doak had found them to be truthful, he "absolutely would have fired him."

"I would have been the hearing officer in that case," Doak said. "So the procedure that I would follow is not to get too involved in that because I actually have to hear the evidence and make a determination of what I'm going to do."

Prosecutor Victor Vigluicci, who reviewed Johnson's investigation for consideration of criminal charges, decided none were warranted.

"I think (Johnson) did a complete and thorough investigation for the purposes with which he was assigned by the sheriff," he said.

If a harassment issue came up in Vigluicci's own office, he said any employee should feel free to approach him or one of his division chiefs with concerns, and he would immediately start an investigation whether the alleged victim wanted an official probe or not. The county's human resources office or an outside agency might be consulted depending on the nature of the allegations, he said.

Vigluicci otherwise declined to comment on how the sheriff handled the Missimi matter.

"I'm not going to comment on how the sheriff runs his shop," he said, adding: "As long as it's reported and investigated, that's how it's supposed to work."

The Record-Courier reached out to every official for information regarding his or her department's sexual harassment policy and complaint procedure to find out if the sheriff's version differed.

Reporting a complaint to a supervisor is standard procedure throughout the county, with an immediate investigation expected to take place.

Coroner Dean DePerro said he has a zero-tolerance harassment policy in his small office, as does Vigluicci, Treasurer Brad Cromes, Recorder Lori Calcei and Auditor Janet Esposito. All said they use Kovick for personnel matters, and all said new employees are required to sign off on receiving the policy.

Clerk of Courts Jill Fankhauser did not respond to a message seeking comment.

County Engineer Michael Marozzi employs 65 people, 45 of whom are under a union contract. Often, any complaint is filed first through the union and then to Marozzi for action. Marozzi said he had to write his own policy manual when he came to office roughly 30 years ago and has never been required to offer or take regular training.

Multiple county officials said they were currently reviewing their policies to update certain language, though most are modeled on the commissioners' policy.

The sheriff's office has five unions representing most of its approximately 160 employees.

According to its manual, the entire department must meet state minimum requirements for proficiency training for firearms, restraints, chemical weapons, vehicles, interviewing practices and even cultural diversity. There is no training required on issues related to harassment.

Doak recalled the county providing sexual harassment training to employees "some time ago," but could not recall a specific date.

Two trainings were offered to all county employees in both April and June, the first for bullying in the workplace, the second for a safe work environment. Kovick said an email was sent to all elected officials, but that no employee from the sheriff's office attended either session, held in person at Maplewood Career Center in Ravenna and available online.

Other training sessions are now being planned through the Kovick's office.

Contact Matthew Merchant at mmerchant@recordpub.com or on Twitter at @MattMerchantRC.

Staff writer Dave O'Brien contributed reporting to this story.


Rate this article

Do you want to leave a comment?   Please Log In or Register to comment.

mmerchant Jul 5, 2017 8:58 AM

In reply to Redleg6:

If you are, indeed, a veteran, then I thank you for your service. I dont handle the comments but I'm sure they are being read and allowed to be published here on the site.

Placing blame for sexual harassment on one political party is, in the definition of the word, ignorant. Sexual harassment can happen to anyone, anytime. My personal hope is that everyone is aware of that fact, not just leaders who happen to be in the Democratic party.

If you have an issue with county politics, then have you tried running for local elected office?

In response to advertisements featuring homosexual behavior. It's 2017. Gay marriage is legal. Let people love who they want to love. We will not remove the adsbecause there is nothing wrong or offensive about them. If you disagree, I kindly ask that you get over it.

(Also, it's "should be removed," with a -d for past tense. Earlier in your comment you also used "how could my comments offended." It should be "offend," as in present tense. That's basic grammar.)

redleg6 Jul 3, 2017 1:40 PM

Censoring a Veterans comments 2 times...

On INDEPENDENCE DAY.?...WHY..???

Can't handle the TRUTH, about Democrat leadership, and the Good Ole Boys/Girls Club of Portage County...

The DEMOCRATS run things around here, you would think they would be mindful of what is going on in the offices...

Appearently this harrassment has been going on for years under the Lack of Leadership of the DIMMS...

How could my comments offended Gatehouse,they publish PICTURE ads that feature Homosexual Behavior, men embracing, men kissing men on the lips, with tongue...

Those ADVERTISEMENTS are OFFENSIVE, and should be REMOVE...

I guess Outhouse Media standards are, we will publish OFENSIVE material, if the"Price is Right"...

realist Jul 2, 2017 12:03 PM

And the Portage County Law enforceent CLOWN CAR rolls on. No one knows, no one knew, no one trained, .......and as always, the Prosecutor fails......isn't it time for a purge of the Good OlE BOYS CLUB in PORTAGE COUNTY?????