Published: Tuesday, October 31, 2006
Trustees fire cop for way he handled resident
The victim said he couldn't see that it was an officer talking to his daughter.
By TIM YOVICH
HOWLAND Township trustees have decided to fire a police officer because of the way he dealt with a resident after responding to a call about two illegally parked vehicles.
Trustees voted 3-0 Monday night to terminate Patrol Officer Jeffrey Zelinsky immediately after a 31/2-hour open hearing. He had been on paid administrative leave.
Zelinsky's attorney, Matthew B. Baker of Columbus, a lawyer with the Ohio Patrolmen's Benevolent Association, a policemen's union, said he will appeal to Trumbull County Common Pleas Court.
Police Chief Paul Monroe recommended the firing after Zelinsky responded to a complaint about illegally parked vehicles outside the home of dentist George E. Ralph, known as Jerry, 65, at 8771 Forest Hill Drive.
Ralph was arrested and charged with disorderly conduct and obstructing official business, charges that were later dismissed in Warren Municipal Court at the request of the city prosecutor. That court's jurisdiction includes Howland.
Ralph was holding a clam bake to coincide with the Ohio State vs. Texas football game and to announce the engagement of the Ralphs' son, John.
About 70 people had attended the party, but about 25 remained at 11 p.m. when Zelinsky came to the front door.
Ralph's daughter, Kimberly, a Columbus teacher, testified that she went to front double doors for the officer, who said he was there because of illegally parked vehicles.
During questioning by Atty. Charles Richards, township law director, Kimberly Ralph said only one of the two front doors was open and she couldn't immediately see Zelinsky until he moved to the side in front of the open door.
Jerry Ralph told trustees he went to the front door to talk to his daughter about the location of some clams.
He testified that he didn't know it was a police officer at the door because he and the officer were on opposite sides of the closed portion of the double door.
Zelinsky said he was on official business.
"I don't care. I'm talking to my daughter," Jerry Ralph said, adding that he didn't know it was a police officer at the door.
Kimberly Ralph testified that Zelinsky entered the house, grabbed her father, pushed him against the banister of the stairway and arrested him.
Zelinsky, who didn't take the stand in his own defense, said in his report of the encounter that he entered the home only after the doctor grabbed his wrist.
During the arrest, the doctor said, he suffered a bruised shoulder and a cut ear that required three stitches.
During cross-examination by Baker, the daughter said she drank three beers during the eight-hour period between the time the party started till it ended, and her father said he had three or four drinks during the same period.
Dr. Ralph's wife, Kathryn, testified that Zelinsky pulled a Taser, a gun used to disable a person with an electrical shock, and flashed it around.
Booked and released
The doctor testified that after being taken to police headquarters and booked, he was released. He couldn't find the pay phone. Besides, he didn't have any money.
He was given a ride home by a friend who happened to see him outside the police station.
Monroe told trustees that Dr. Ralph's arrest was unlawful because Zelinsky had no business entering the home.
Monroe said that if he had been answering the call he would have asked that the cars be moved and give the owners 10 to 15 minutes to do it.
According to the report Zelinsky filed, he believed the doctor was intoxicated. Monroe said if that were the case, he should have assured that the doctor had a ride home.
During closing arguments, Baker argued that Zelinsky shouldn't be fired, but disciplined, so he can continue to work in law enforcement. He noted that Zelinsky has had several letters of commendation and his ratings by his supervisors have shown him to have above average knowledge of the law.
Township Administrator Darlene St. George said she didn't know how long Zelinsky had been on the force.