Circleville Council votes to part ways with police chief and deputy chief

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Circleville City Council has entered “separation agreements” with the city’s police chief and deputy chief, agreeing to pay them $70,000 and $69,000, respectively, and end potential costly investigations against both men.

Chief Shawn Baer was suspended March 11 for alleged misconduct, including “harassment, intimidation, retaliation, threats of discipline, misuse of position, improper expenditures, failure to adhere to deadlines and timekeeping violations,” according to Circleville Mayor Michelle Blanton.

Two weeks later, Blanton suspended Deputy Chief Doug Davis after she said that Davis had assaulted her during a meeting in which the two had discussed the March 7 hiring of Steve Wilkinson as safety director. Blanton would eventually fire Wilkinson after just four days on the job for reasons she hasn’t explained.

Council voted 6-1 on Wednesday to accept the resignations and separation agreements for both former police department leaders. Baer will receive a $70,000 payout plus accrued vacation, time off and his pension. Davis will be paid $69,000 plus similar benefits. Councilman Zachary Brooks voted against both measures, in one roll call casting his vote “absolutely not.”

Both Baer and Davis will likely be reinstated this week, Brooks said, so that they can formally tender their resignations and activate their settlement agreements.

After the meeting, Brooks said “I’m disgusted that we just handed these guys $70,000 apiece and said ‘Shut up and see you later.’ “

The settlement agreements also end any possible civil litigation by or against Baer and Davis.

Brooks said he is hopeful that new police leaders will be found, preferably from outside Circleville, “to rebuild our police department and to clean things up.”

The city already has paid $50,000 to law firms for investigations into the allegations that led the mayor to suspend the two, Brooks said. It was not immediately clear if Wednesday’s actions would now end those investigations or others begun by state or federal officials.

There was no public discussion following the hour-long meeting. Sgt. Kenny Fisher has been acting police chief since the suspensions, though it is likewise unclear if that will become permanent.

The Circleville City Council meets on the second floor of City Hall in downtown Circleville. At left is the Pickaway County Courthouse.

The personnel actions Wednesday are the latest turmoil in Circleville over its police department. On July 4, a Circleville police dog was allowed to attack an unarmed truck driver who had surrended with his hands up after leading Ohio State Highway Patrol troopers and police on a chase before stopping.

The incident became national news, and Chief Baer eventually fired Officer Ryan Speakman, the K9 handler, not for the incident, but for complaining to others, including family members, about his stress and being placed on administrative leave.

Documents reveal how discussion became assault allegation

Newly obtained documents about an alleged assault by Deputy Chief Davis against Mayor Blanton provide conflicting accounts of what may have happened.

The March 14 meeting between Blanton, Davis and Valerie Dilley, the city’s human resources director, was to discuss the hiring of Wilkinson, a reserve officer who was appointed to safety director to clean up problems in the police department.

It ended with Blanton leaving a meeting room in tears and going to the front of City Hall,where an ambulance was called for her.

In a statement written to Dilley four days later, Blanton said that Davis called her “deceiving,” and “a liar,” apparently referring to the mayor’s decision to hire Wilkinson and secretly swear him in, along with Davis’ concerns shared by other officers that Wilkinson was targeting them.

“At this point I was emotional and crying,” Blanton wrote. “He (Davis) said that he didn’t mean to make me upset but … at this point I was sobbing, having trouble breathing and couldn’t catch my breath.”

Blanton said that both Dilley and Davis tried to console and calm her.

Blanton said she walked to her office and, after two or three minutes, left the building and toward Court Street in front of the Circleville City Hall.

That’s when Blanton said Davis “grabbed ahold of me by the shoulders and told me I wasn’t able to drive.”

“I told him to get off me and continued across the street.” Moments later, an ambulance and police officers responded. Blanton refused treatment.

“I don’t know what the solution is, but no one in the city should be made to feel the way I felt after this interaction,” Blanton wrote.

Blanton confirmed at an April 2 City Council meeting that she had been assaulted and that Davis was being investigated.

Davis, in a written statement two days after the incident, states that he was “afraid” of Steve Wilkinson, the newly appointed safety director who had sought to clean up problems in the police department. Wilkinson was fired late last month after less than a week on the job.