Youngstown Vindicator does window dressing for Niles Police Department after Murder of Unarmed Man

Tim Tolka
5 min readApr 19, 2019

A month ago, I was obliged to run a cleanup operation because of the sloppy, mendacious news coverage of a certain Youngstown newspaper called the Vindicator. If you missed my last installment here, I can summarize it by saying that the Vindicator attacked a dead man who was executed by a police firing squad from behind as he sat still and unarmed in his car. Outraged residents demanded the Vindicator write a corresponding article detailing the misdeeds of the Niles Police Department (NPD). Sadly, as has always been the case with the Vindicator, the team gets limp-wristed when it comes to putting that vicious pen to paper when the target is someone powerful who, unlike most black men in jail or a fresh grave, could file a lawsuit against the newspaper.

As such, The Vindicator published an article on March 23, playing defense for the NPD, but as usual, the editor didn’t spell out the significance of the facts his bumbling reporter, Mr. Ed Runyan, managed to uncover. So, here I am again, moved by conscience to mop up The Vindicator’s latest sludge with my pen. This article gives crucial context which the Vindicator failed to provide in its rush to bury the murder of an unarmed black man by cops under a veil of lies.

  1. Niles Police aggressively suppress complaints

Mr. Runyan kicks off his whitewash declaring the NPD “has what appears to be a good track record regarding citizen complaints,” reinforcing the message of the headline, “Review of citizen Niles police complaints few in number,” (which needs the word “finds”). What the newspaper found was that the NPD has only had two written complaints in the last five years because they resolve verbal complaints informally through gentleman’s agreement and suppress written complaints by threat of prosecution. Of course, the paper would never dream of making such an allegation, but they’ll disclose in an oblique and diplomatic way, toning down the language so that no one notices.

For example, the newspaper acknowledged that the NPD’s complaint form “contains a warning that making a knowingly false complaint of misconduct against a police officer is a first-degree misdemeanor offense,” but it tiptoed around the explanation that the Justice Department (DOJ) explicitly forced the Warren Police Department (WPD) to stop threatening residents with charges of filing a false complaint, saying, “Warren’s citizen-complaint process has undergone great scrutiny since the [DOJ] came to the city and found unconstitutional policing practices in the department. Warren’s complaint forms do not contain a warning regarding it being illegal to knowingly file a false complaint.” The writing is verbose and so watered down that the implication slips by many readers: the reason why there aren’t many complaints is the Niles police are bold-faced in their intimidation of their own residents, just like the Warren police used to do before the DOJ forced them to remove that threat.

Oftentimes, according to Christy Lopez, a former U.S. Justice Department official, police departments nearby those that undergo consent decrees study the reform process and make changes to their policies in order to avoid future problems. The NPD didn’t do this. Their complaint form expresses the department’s belief that residents are liars trying to target honest officers who are doing their jobs, and residents get it, telling the Vindicator, “residents do not file complaints against the police department because ‘they know they will not win,’ and ‘they are afraid of retaliation.’” Niles is way too small for residents to complain without anonymity, which caused a local whistleblower to conceal himself in the past.

2. NPD uses new statewide standards meant to increase transparency to justify a cover-up

Then, the Vindicator painstakingly showcases the NPD’s progress adopting the Ohio Collaborative Community-Police Advisory Board’s statewide standards, which have been fully adopted by 445 police agencies. Runyan didn’t bother to look deeper into what those standards are about, of course, so he failed to mention that the Ohio Collaborative Board also has a standard for the use of deadly force that mandates officers only use it when defending themselves or others from serious injury or death. The Niles police violated this rule by killing Burroughs who posed no immediate threat to the officers, who had no weapon and whose car was parked.

The standards, which were established in 2015 by an executive order from the governor in the wake of a deadly police shooting, additionally delineate best-practices for the use of body-cameras and transparency. Had the Vindicator bothered to check what the standards were, it would have been evident that the NPD is using the Ohio Collaborative Board’s standards for exactly the opposite cause than the one which inspired them to be created.

There is no defense the Niles Police can use to block the release of the footage. In fact, a new law, Ohio House Bill 425, passed in early April of 2019, only strengthens the argument for transparency by settling which exemptions of body cam footage may be claimed against public records requests. Under the new law, any footage that contains dead bodies or grievously injured bodies can be withheld, “unless the death or injury was caused by an officer or the decedent’s executor consents to its release.”

This is good news for Burroughs’ surviving relatives and bad news for the NPD. Many other points raised about this case in the media have been largely irrelevant and even harmful to the correct adjudication of Burroughs’ death by the legal system. The body cam footage must be released. Without it, no one can talk sensibly about this case, and the police know this only too well.

What’s really going on inside the NPD?

Every available indication suggests the NPD is terrified. The hesitance to issue a statement or hold a press conference. The quiet lobbying of black leaders for a sympathetic hearing. The excuses about releasing the footage. The careful, deliberate disinformation campaign using hack journalists. The officers know they are in serious legal jeopardy, so they need BCI to cover it up and for the prosecutor to absolve them, as has always happened in the past in Trumbull County. However, there is now strong legal precedents that back up the release of body cam evidence, and the public knows this after seeing dozens of analogous cases of officer-involved shootings in Chicago, Cincinnati, and other cities.

I’m calling for the public to get behind the Burroughs family and the concerned citizens organizing on social media in Trumbull County. Let’s push for transparency and accountability! This case is perfect to break the vicious cycle of abuse by local police.



Tim Tolka

Author, screenwriter, and journalist. Author of Blue Mafia. IL, LA, CO, TX, FL, VA, NYC, DC, and SF.