In the wake of the George Floyd protests, Warren Assistant Law Director Traci Timko Sabau is facing calls to resign over a FB post where she was “feeling pissed off” because people criticized police for shooting someone in the back. Correct me if I’m wrong, didn’t those critics include the majority of the 1985 U.S. Supreme Court in Tennessee v. Garner who found that there has to be an immediate bodily threat to officers to use lethal force on a fleeing subject? As the legal advisor to lawless local police, Ms. Timko probably hasn’t consulted the U.S. Code or Ohio Revised Code in a while. I’m sure she didn’t intend to include those Justices in her derisive public attack on “uneducated… policing and use-of-force ‘experts’”… who are “not smart enough to realize how dumb they sound” with their “hurtful” and “damaging” opinions.
Timko also asserted that judging a cop’s actions based on “a five-second clip,” is “absurd,” but I recall that a jury in South Carolina famously relied on just such a clip to convict former Officer Michael Slager of shooting Walter Scott in the back as he ran away. Ms. Timko was not only wrong about every single part of her argument; one of Warren’s foremost legal experts revealed herself as shockingly ignorant of the law.
Still, it’s not surprising to hear a longtime Warren public official angrily sounding off against police reform and later issuing a half-hearted apology. Timko came from a law enforcement family, and she takes it personally when people criticize cops. Not only that, she has devoted her entire career to fighting police reform, first as an assistant prosecutor, then as the legal advisor to local police, and now as assistant law director, in a tiny Ohio town with police brutality so severe the Justice Department (DOJ) spent 12 years cajoling Warren Police Department (WPD) to reform. In order to understand how absurd, damaging, and hurtful Timko’s comments are, we need to explore the “justice” provided by people like Timko in Warren, which I described (in more detail) with my 300-page book, Blue Mafia: Police Brutality and Consent Decrees in Ohio.
Changing the way police operate is impossible when other city officials won’t listen to the community and sandbag all reform attempts. Such was the case in Warren, Ohio when the DOJ intervened to stop the chaos caused by the WPD under the 9-year tenure of Chief John Mandopoulos. Mando, as he was locally known, rarely punished anybody for anything except defying his orders. He was a bit old school, referring to his own boss and two black city councilors as “the head niggers” and once shouting at a teenage motorist (who later sued him for violating his civil rights), “I’m the chief of fucking police and I don’t care who you are, if you don’t show me some ID, I’ll drag you out of the car,” which he proceeded to do.
The DOJ investigation (2005–2008) and reform program (2012–2017) all stemmed from a moment captured on video in 2003 where three WPD officers beat and piled on top of Lyndal Kimble, a young black man later accused by the police of drug possession. On a sunny Summer day, Kimble was punched, pepper-sprayed, body-slammed, smothered, hit with a baton in the back, and kneed in the head until the officers were physically exhausted. Kimble won his lawsuit, but he was punished at every stage of the legal process by officials, including then-Assistant Prosecutor Traci Timko, determined to make him pay for asserting his rights. The WPD re-arrested him after a careful sting operation, and then the prosecutor’s office, in league with racist judge McKay who even resisted a higher court’s order on his illegal sentence, put Kimble in jail for ten years. Chief Mando and other officers danced and high-fived at his sentencing hearing. Then, the city ruthlessly came after a portion of the settlement.
The message was clear: no one embarrasses the police. Warren is a town where nothing changes, even if law, policy, reason, and conscience would dictate otherwise.
For the first five years of the new millennium, Warren’s black residents, with fresh wounds from dozens of similar experiences, pushed for reform, supported by Warren Mayor Hank Angelo, and city’s first black safety service director, Fred Harris, who had already been putting pressure on the WPD since his appointment in 2001. Nevertheless, Chief Mandopoulos wouldn’t hear of any of that, threatening a local journalist, as well as her newspaper, refusing to punish an officer for using the N-word in a viral video, fighting a 10-day suspension over it, and scoffing in the face of DOJ investigators who were obliged to attempt a rescue his flailing agency. I’m not exaggerating; public officials feared that lawsuits over the WPD’s strip-searches alone would bankrupt the city.
During Mando’s tenure, there were many outrages and several large protests, but many community residents sided with the police, including the Mayor who replaced Angelo in 2005, Michael O’Brien and his safety service director, Doug Franklin, a compromised and subservient figure who would later take O’Brien’s place. These two would sit idly by while Mando bucked the DOJ, clearing out a backlog of complaints from the former administration and defying all reforms. Even influential black pastors sided with the WPD, and the community was divided. Meanwhile, the prosecutors, led by Dennis Watkins, with assistants Traci Timko and Chris Becker, backed up the WPD by filing false charges against the enemies of the WPD and covering up police misconduct.
Most of the local judges, even at the federal level, rarely made a fuss about how police treated people, even if they wanted to shoot them in the back, as Prosecutor Dennis Watkins allowed WPD Officer Chase Vaccaro to do back in 1997. Ask Lieutenant Markulik about it; he was on the scene and later put his stamp of approval on the internal investigation of the lies concocted by Vaccaro before Judge Economus blew it up. Marhulik, a veteran WPD officer who later had to apologize for driving around drunk and yelling racial slurs, “missed” an elementary fact that a detective should notice: if the victim was reportedly shot in the head at close range, why was there no gun powder residue on the victim? I bet he would notice as long as a cop is not the shooter. And he is not alone.
Clues like that were routinely passed over by the WPD and others in charge of finding out why residents died, such as with the suspicious deaths of Daisey Gilmore, Orin Waddell, James Osmon, Harold Freeman, David Chares Daniels, John Edmondson, Matthew Perhacs, and James Hill Groves, and many others who died in WPD custody or in the jail. When BCI had to intervene in the Warren coroner’s office because Joseph Sudimack hadn’t done an autopsy in many years, which became the biggest law enforcement effort in the country in 1996, BCI undoubtedly missed those cases, like all of the Warren public servants.
Assistant Prosecutor Traci Timko has a history of stifling reform in whatever way she can. Fred Harris remembers getting a call from an African American grandmother who was very distressed. Her son had been getting a ride from a white friend, and the WPD kept harassing them for their friendship. Officer Hetmanski even threw the white man’s car keys into a field as punishment for giving a black man a ride.
The woman went to see Traci Timko in order to find out how she could file a complaint and Timko warned her, “Stay away from Fred Harris. He doesn’t like cops.” This was frustrating for Harris, who had attempted to stop the intimidation of residents who suffered police abuse. Chief Mandopoulos insisted on delivering the police complaint form with threats, and in one well-known case, an officer even followed a limping, elderly black woman and her son down the stairs and out of a public building, threatening them.
The DOJ had to officially admonish the WPD to make complaint forms available and follow the DOJ’s requirements on internal investigations. It remains difficult for any person or organization to obtain public records from the city of Warren or its police department. The local newspaper famously went to the Ohio Supreme Court and won access in 1996 to the WPD’s unbelievably shoddy and scandalous records of internal investigations, where various use of force complaints and even an alleged rape by two cops were hiding, unresolved, often uninvestigated. One of the alleged rapists was also Mando’s godson, Chuck List, who once led his own fellow officers on a drunken car chase and owned a racist bar, and somehow just couldn’t seem to get fired.
Timko personally suppressed public records when I sought information about a case of church child abuse that was allegedly covered up by the pro-police mayor, Michael O’Brien. She had previously lied to the press about the very existence of that investigation, but years later, she readily admitted various details about it on the phone, then later refused to release the records until I enlisted a Columbus law firm to threaten a subpoena.
She was an assistant prosecutor and also assistant law director, which gave her power over public records and the legal interpretation of city policy, such as strip and cavity searches, which the WPD illegally used for decades to humiliate black motorists after traffic stops, with Traci Timko and local judge Gysegem’s express permission.
With all that background, Traci Timko was perhaps the worst person for the city of Warren to put in charge of engagement with the DOJ from 2012 to 2017, but despite her conflicts of interest, she was appointed Special Liaison between the WPD and the DOJ, as well as the WPD’s legal advisor. So many hats!! Unsurprisingly, a bunch of issues that the DOJ found problems within its extensive reports in 2013 magically disappeared by 2015, and soon Warren’s public officials declared victory when the Trump administration lifted the consent decree over the WPD.
Now, the new Warren law director, Enzo Cantalamessa, formerly the safety services director, will have to decide if Timko is disciplined after Mayor Doug Franklin stood up for perhaps the first time in his career and criticized Timko’s FB post. After the death of George Floyd and the shift that followed, Franklin suddenly has found his spine, but no one will forget that he collaborated in an unspeakable system of police brutality and racism for more than a decade. The same with Cantalamessa, who is childhood friends with a WPD Captain Greg Hoso who beat Lyndal Kimble. Hoso has had the good fortune of several family members blessed with jobs sucking off the public teat and other family members somehow escaping punishment for well-known drug addictions.
Bottom line: Cantalamessa won’t lift a finger to punish anybody because he knows that the musical chairs played by Warren officials depends on favors and protecting their own. Cantalamessa has two DUIs on his record, a standard that would have excluded his black predecessor Fred Harris from consideration. In a phone interview, then-Safety Services Director Cantalamessa affirmed that no WPD officer has ever been fired for excessive force in the history of the department and that he has never had a reason to question the result of any internal investigation. Enzo Cantalamessa’s wife is an assistant prosecutor in Youngstown. Timko and Cantalamessa are like family; they all protect each other.
Traci Timko already benefitted from the protection of other city officials when a state trooper was caught by his superiors at her house, at a time when both of them were working for the public and being paid with taxpayer money. That incident was common knowledge among many public servants and beyond, but it was carefully kept from the public. Similarly when a WPD Sergeant was caught with his unmarked car parked at a local brothel, the story never got out and nobody was punished, except for the officer who was obliged to drive a marked police cruiser. The brothels were finally closed down by the state attorney general, after operating for years out in the open. Are we seeing a pattern yet? Payoffs, kickbacks, favors, freebies, you-scratch-my-back business was the open secret of Warren, and nobody knew this better than the police, who were ordered to turn a blind eye.
These shenanigans are nothing new for Warren. Mayor O’Brien covered up a child abuse investigation into a church where several officials attended and where the predator (employed by the city) still lurks, which I wrote about here. Mayor O’Brien also clamped down on documents that demonstrated how his administration had allowed lead to poison local residents, even after being warned and then ordered by the Ohio EPA to issue public announcements to residents, which I wrote about here. He even abused his power by ordering a cop car to be parked in front of his house to scare away his estranged wife. Sounds like a guy bound for higher office! O’Brien was a former county commissioner during an era of rank corruption, then he became mayor, and he is now Representative of Ohio’s 64th District.
Back in the good old days, local defense attorneys were recorded when they met privately with their clients, and police beat up black teenagers in the interrogation room, which WPD dispatchers and other staff were encouraged to keep quiet about or face termination. It was a nice little system they had, covering for each other and betraying the public. If anybody challenged them, like Fred Harris did, the police would threaten them, as Officer Brian Crites did on a local newspaper’s website, suggesting the WPD start wearing “white hoods,” a perfect analogy for the culture of the WPD, which used to have a private newsletter making fun of their victims. Unfortunately for Timko and the rest of them, including Mayor Doug Franklin, those days are over.
Timko Sabau apologized saying, “I am sorry for causing any of our citizens concern over the city of Warren’s full commitment to hearing all voices and bridging any gap with our police force.” This leaves much to be desired, to put it mildly. This official has stifled reform and burned the bridge between the community and the WPD at every step of her career and in a variety of positions of power. Her statements fail to acknowledge any of her shady past, actively working against the rights of Warren’s black residents and standing tall for police who ruled “with iron fists and rubber gloves.”
Dennis Watkins and his assistants have helped terrorize the black community in Warren, and they have done it with relish. I mean, who can forget all of Chris Beckers’ famous tweets or his FB post, well-remembered recently by a few residents, about having prosecuted many fathers of local black basketball players? Dennis Watkins went on the record defending Becker’s tweets (not the FB posts, which haven’t even been written about yet). Or what about that time in 1998 when three people went to jail for the contract-killing of a government witness, Brad McMillan, except for three law enforcement officers, Carlo Eggleston, Vince Peterson and Andre Peterson who collected $15,000 for the hit and the trigger-puller they hired. Look up those officers’ names and see where they are today! To my knowledge, Brad McMillan’s murder is the only contract-killing by American cops that is publicly known (the Warren township police’ own investigation is my source!) yet remains unprosecuted (similar cases in Brooklyn and New Orleans were handled without fear or favor). That is Trumbull County Prosecutor Dennis Watkins handiwork, as well! Resign, you coward and take your lieutenants with you! The entire prosecutor’s office needs to be cleared out.
Likewise with the new chief, Eric Merkel, who covered for Traci Timko when I tried to request public records of communications between him and Timko, saying the policy of the city was “read and delete,” which is illegal. Chief Merkel is better than Bowers, who was better than Mando, who was actually worse than Timko (hey!), who was undoubtedly better than Hutson in the early 90s, who was a big improvement from Chief Galgozy back in the 80s. As an illustration, during the years of Hutson and Galgozy alone, the WPD was sued for civil rights violations 50 times. The law department shelled out a few thousand bucks for each victim if they could pay an attorney for a few years. No records were kept and no one was punished.
Although perhaps less corrupt and arguably less devoted to brutality than his forebears, Chief Merkel is not good enough and neither are the captains of the WPD, who all hail from the 9-year era of no punishment for strip-searching, beating and killing residents. They all need to be replaced, without exception. If their entire disciplinary records hadn’t been destroyed periodically every two years, according to a bullshit contract with the Fraternal Order of Police, their union (a key private yet quasi public / unaccountable stakeholder in the status quo, every lodge of which needs to be abolished), who knows what horrors the public would be privy to. Unfortunately for Warren residents, there’s no way anything will change until the individuals who back up bad police, from the WPD, to the city and county and federal and circuit courts, to the national police union and the Civil Service Commission, get the message that police power is not absolute over the rights of humans, including black humans. Local residents who have long thirsted for equal treatment fear that the obvious, open institutional racism will continue if those who have perpetuated it until 2020 remain in their cozy positions, doing jack shit to change the way people are treated by the system while the taxpayers handle your bills.
If anybody would like to challenge any of the facts I’ve included in this analysis of Warren’s craven public officials, I would love to hear it. If anybody would like to sue me for defamation for telling the truth, consider how many people know each of these stories, which are often backed up by local media and public records, not all of which you can suppress. In discovery, I would dredge up more than the entire research of my book, which I still have, in fact, including thousands of pages of court documents and all the recordings of interviews with local residents and former officials. I even have a personal archive of the Vindicator’s (dearly departed) articles. I bet many local journalists wouldn’t mind being deposed about their knowledge of these issues, and I would relish the fight as much as y’all have relished the abuse of power.
Disclaimer: Warren definitely has good police, perhaps most of them are trying their level best, but as before, the bad ones are in control.
For more interesting reading, take a look at these documents, and don’t hesitate to contact me if you want access to more. Thanks!!