|The time has past when a public official can act arrogantly and capriciously - and get away with it. The objective of this web page is to put a unprofessional sheriff’s deputy on notice that bullying tactics and impulsive decisions are not acceptable. It also exposes, regrettably, lying and cover-up by the deputy's chain of command.|
This page could possibly be classified as just another rant against a sheriff’s deputy. However, to put it in the proper context, it is important to know that I have a great respect for public safety personnel. I have three children in their 40's: a son who is a police lieutenant in a big city police department, another son who is a FBI agent, and my daughter is a lawyer. I am a retired Columbus Fire Department assistant chief.
BUT, I have a equally great deal of contempt for any who cannot handle, or abuses, a position of responsibility and trust. Thus this story.
I was accosted on Saturday May 23rd, 2009 in a unprovoked and very agressive and abusive manner by Franklin County (Ohio) Sheriff Deputy Scott Downing. I was taking photos at and of a accident scene at the Columbus Motor Speedway, for use of the speedway (not publication, although that's immaterial), when, in a very bully-like manner, he ordered me to leave the area. I left - the incident was over. (View speedway photo web page here.)
However, several minutes later, without cause, reason, or explanation, Deputy Downing again sprung into action. In a continuing blatantly unprofessional manner, he then told me to leave the area even beyond the taped incident area and added that he would have me arrested if I took another photo. Yes, arrested if I took another photo.
It would not have been possible to communicate to the out-of-control deputy the fact that he had no authority to stop anyone from taking lawful photos, so I didn’t try. However, he would do well to read this lawyer’s essay that addresses one of the gaps in his knowledge.
This is the same Downing who was cited in a September 7, 2011 Columbus Dispatch article as having caused the county to pay out $88,000 after a altercation where he "...dragged him down stairs while handcuffed, broke his jaw with a blow from a flashlight..." Even though there was a big payout, predictably, "...the deputy, Scott Downing, was not disciplined..." There is no mention of any remedial training or behavior modification. Probably another good laugh in the locker room.
It is unclear to me what motivates such pathetic performances, or what can cause one to become such a bully when they perceive themselves as being in a position of power. But one thing is sure, Downey's irrational actions defame the many good and dedicated officers everywhere. Further, it seems unlikely to me that these emotional performances are singlular events in his professional life.
I attempted to get a resolution to this fiasco by filing a written complaint with the sheriff’s office. I was contacted by Sergeant Gary Strayer, Downey's sergeant, who told me that the situation would be investigated and a report sent up through channels to the sheriff.
After a month of no-response I contacted Sgt. Strayer. He told me that Deputy Downing met with the "Chief Deputy". He said that Deputy Downing was given a "documented oral reprimand" that would go into "a personnel file", aparently for his abusive behavior. Presumably the more serious action of threatening arrest for taking photos was not discussed. The sergeant said that I would not receive any written response or documentation and that the matter would go no further. So what really happened? Another good laugh in the lunch room? So much for that.
That was to be the end except for one thing - I needed documentation of the investigation. Why was Strayer so evasive?
The rest of the story:
A written request to the sheriff for documentation opened up a whole new can of worms. The response came from Major Alan Mann, Sgt. Strayer’s boss, who started right off saying that Sergeant Strayer denied saying what he had told me about the "documented oral reprimand". If so, Sgt. Strayer had lied to the major after lying to me.
The documentation Mann sent went on to tell a completely different story. As I already knew, they indicated that my complaint was assigned to Sergeant Gary Strayer for investigation. Although it struck me at the time that he didn't qualify as the objective observer, my phone conversation with him seemed to be amicable and productive. Sgt. Strayer expressed seemingly sincere concern and said it would probably end up as a written reprimand for Downey. At this point the actions of the emotional deputy might have been written off as that of a pudgy adolescent bully who never grew up, with a little attempt to rewrite the constitution.
However, the actions of Sgt. Gary Strayer, Downey's boss, went on to become far more reprehensible than that of Downey. Although Strayer saved Downey from a reprimand and remedial training, he did it at great personal expense - his blatant lying forever surrendered any claim he might have had for integrity.
To say that Sgt. Strayer's narrative in the file was a shock is a understatement. Obviously, he didn't realize that I had recorded all of our phone conversations. To put it politely, Sergeant Strayer’s report was very dishonest, and his dishonesty was very blatant and undeniable. Sgt. Strayer conducted a official interview, albeit on the phone, and turned in a official report constructed to make the complainant, me, the villain. In his written report he made derogatory remarks and attributed statements to me that were exactly opposite of what I said. Yes, exactly opposite of what I said. He lied multiple times to both me and to his supervisor Major Mann, and to Chief Deputy Gilbert Jones.
Dishonesty, in most law enforcement agencies, is one of the most serious infractions a member can commit and such offenses often result in suspension, demotion and sometimes termination.
A problem like this should be resolved at the Sheriff’s Department level. However, my further attempts were unsuccessful. That’s the reason for this web page. Their lack of response to Sgt. Strayer's deceit amounts to tacit approval of arrogance and dishonesty - the way they conducted business. Even though I witnessed it, I still find it hard to believe that that would happen in the Franklin County (Ohio) Sheriff’s Department.
There is a further and probably even more serious ramification to dishonesty in any law enforcement officer. They are often called on to testify in court. When they are shown to be dishonest in official interactions with both citizens and superiors, how much weight will their testimony carry?
A further report in the November 29, 2011 Columbus Dispatch stated that, "The county has settled 32 lawsuits totaling about $1.2 million in payouts involving the sheriff's office since 2009. As of September, when the tally was at 27, Franklin County had settled more suits involving its sheriff's office than Ohio's other five largest counties." This would seem to indicate that Downing and Strayer are not the only problems at the sheriff's office.
In 2014 Strayer retired and Downey was promoted to Sergeant. It's unclear what the criteria for promotion is.
All of the tapes, emails, reports, and other documents are public information at the sheriff's office. If they "lose" them I have digital copies available.
Your comments are welcome.