MOUNT VERNON — Effective Friday morning, Mount Vernon Police Chief Mike Merrilees and Sgt. Kit Morgan were placed on paid administrative leave.
Mayor Richard Mavis made the announcement at his weekly meeting with the News Friday, explaining that “We thought BCI would do an assessment and we would be through with this.”
The mayor said there has not been good communication with BCI on the status of the investigation. Law Director Chip McConville has been trying to get an answer from BCI about the status of its investigation into the allegations of ethics violations by Merrilees and Morgan.
“The chief and Morgan have also expressed concern that they have not been interviewed by BCI,” Mavis said.
“This is a disappointment,” Mavis said. “The publicity has created a negative feeling among the officers, which was reflected in the anonymous report this week in the News.”
“Why should an officer feel the need to go to the News?” he said. Mavis also said he has been over to the department, not to find out “who talked” but to find out why. He also mentioned a delegation of officers met with Safety-Service Director Dave Glass last week.
“We’re concerned about the dark cloud hovering over the department,” he said. “It is affecting the entire department and it was our best judgment to remove the chief and sergeant until a final assessment is complete.”
Capt. George Hartz will be in charge of the department while the process proceeds, Glass said.
Glass said he personally called both Merrilees and Morgan to notify them of the decision. He said Capt. Hartz is notifying the department members. Glass said he has offered to attend any staff meeting Hartz may hold on the subject.
Mavis said the investigation is looking into the purchase of an impounded Jeep by Morgan, which was approved by Merrilees, and a deal by Morgan and Merrilees to buy and resell parking meters the city was discarding. They stored the meters at the impound lot after buying them, a violation of city policy.
Mavis said the inquiry does not include a dispute between the police and a garage owner over fees for storing an impounded motorcycle. (This was before the city set up its current impound lot.) Mavis said he had talked to the garage owner, who had told him he considered the matter resolved.
As for the delay in putting Merrilees and Morgan on leave, the mayor said that “when we do anything we have to make sure we comply with the Civil Service laws, the union contract and any other appropriate state laws.”
In talking about the “huge negative impact” on the department, Mavis mentioned the recently announced departure of Detective Craig Feeney. Although he did not say whether he thought the departure was directly connected to the situation, he said he “regrets his leaving” and praised the veteran detective for his service.
“I just want this to be over and any punishments meted out” if any are warranted.
“We’re all disappointed this has gone on for so long,” Mavis said.
Dan Tierney, spokesperson for the Ohio Attorney General’s Office told the News the investigation into Merrilees and Morgan remains “ongoing” and dialogue continues between the office and those who requested the investigation.
“It was requested by the city law director and the county prosecutor and we have been regularly providing updates to those individuals,” said Tierney. “There is no set time period with which we update. Investigations tend to take as long as they need to in order to conduct a thorough investigation.”
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