Citizens’ board recommends police discipline, policy changes from Jack Runser case

Jack Runser, who is deaf and mute and has cerebral palsy, said he was mistreated by Dayton police officers.

Dayton’s Citizens’ Appeal Board has recommended discipline and training for two police officers accused of misconduct by a Dayton resident who is deaf, mute and has cerebral palsy.

The civilian board also recommended in its 11-page decision released Friday that the police department change its policies and take other steps to ensure people with hearing impairments or other disabilities are treated fairly and can communicate with officers.

The board said police supervisors’ internal investigation into the accusations of misconduct that exonerated the officers was not handled thoroughly and with enough care, and the case deserves additional scrutiny.

“The documents provided to the board proved the officers violated federal and local policies, and the board agreed with that decision,” said Debra Southard, an advocate for Jack Runser, the 50-year-old Dayton man who appealed the decision exonerating the officers. “Based on that, Mr. Runser wants to thank the board for holding the police accountable.”

“But he’s hopeful a new independent investigation will lead to charges for all four officers involved,” she said.

Dayton police officials did not immediately return a request for comment by deadline on Monday.

ExploreMan with disabilities accuses Dayton police of misconduct
Jack Runser, 50, of  Dayton, in the back of a Dayton police cruiser in November. CONTRIBUTED
Jack Runser, 50, of Dayton, in the back of a Dayton police cruiser in November. CONTRIBUTED

On Nov. 8, Runser was stopped, questioned, handcuffed and transported to Miami Valley Hospital by officers Joshua Wiesman and Seth Victor. Runser said his wrist was fractured during the incident, and he was scared and traumatized because he had no idea what was going on and the officers didn’t properly communicate with him.

The officers wore masks during at least part of the encounter, meaning Runser could not read their lips.

The officers said Rusner was disheveled and his behavior and actions were consistent with methamphetamine use, and they took him to the hospital for evaluation.

Jack Runser at Miami Valley Hospital in handcuffs. CONTRIBUTED
Jack Runser at Miami Valley Hospital in handcuffs. CONTRIBUTED

Runser filed a complaint against the officers. An internal police investigation into his accusations exonerated the officers.

He appealed that decision to the Citizens’ Appeal Board, which voted to not concur with the police investigation’s findings and concluded the initial complaint should have been sustained.

The appeal board said Wiesman and Victor violated a variety of police department policies.

The officers did not properly inform Runser why he was being detained and taken to the hospital, the board’s decision says, and he had the legal right to walk away from the officers.

Officers also failed to recognize and accommodate his disability, the board said, and they should not have handcuffed him behind his back, which caused him pain and meant he did not have a way to communicate.

Jack Runser. CONTRIBUTED
Jack Runser. CONTRIBUTED

The officers should have provided sign language interpreters or taken other steps to properly communicate with Rusner, the board said.

The board said the officers committed “egregious” policy violations by failing to submit a written statement to the hospital when they took Runser in and also by using “indecent, profane or harsh language” while performing their official duties.

Runser was not treated with respect, because one officer allegedly said, “God, he smelled like (expletive),” the board said.

The board also said evidence presented at Runser’s hearing suggests the initial internal police investigations into the allegations were not thorough.

Southard, Runser’s advocate, accused police Maj. Christopher Malson and Sgt. Jonathan Sopczak of untruthfulness and filing false reports. She said letters and other messages and documents she obtained indicate Sopczak and Malson recommended exonerating Victor and Wiesman before the officers had filed their written statements.

The appeal board said it recommends further investigation to determine if any false or untruthful reports were filed in this case.

“The Dayton Police Department should take care to avoid even the appearance of impropriety,” the appeal board’s decision states. “The allegations in this regard do not lead to transparency and public trust in internal police investigations.”

Runsers is still traumatized from his encounter with police, but he hopes his experience will lead to changes that help other community members moving forward, Southard said.

A photograph of Jack Runser's wrist injury. CONTRIBUTED
A photograph of Jack Runser's wrist injury. CONTRIBUTED

The appeal board recommended the department works to develop new policies and training for officers to better serve and interact with people with hearing impairments. The board also recommended officers carry cards, possibly in their cruisers, that they can use to ask residents if they are hearing impaired and would like an interpreter.

The board recommended the police department establish an Americans with Disabilities Act coordinator and a grievance process people with disabilities can use if they believe their rights were violated.

The board also recommended training for officers on “respectful interactions” with the deaf community and modifying the police department’s handcuffing policy so deaf residents are cuffed in the front and can communicate with their hands or in writing.

The Citizens’ Appeal Board recommended:

  • The Dayton Police Department hire a consultant or work with a local group that deals with the deaf to review and initiate new policies and procedures within three months.
  • DPD train all new recruits and at least once annually all personnel on recognizing people who are deaf or hard of hearing and on effectively communicating with them.
  • DPD will provide Americans with Disabilities Act/Section 504 training on communication with qualified individuals with disabilities. Training will include the DPD Policy on Communicating with People Who are Deaf or Hard of Hearing (or who have other disabilities that hinder communication at an encounter) and the American with Disabilities Act and Law Enforcement.
  • Officers have in their cruisers or in their possession a card that asks residents if they have a hearing impairment and if they would like an interpreter.
  • DPD consider designating an Americans with Disabilities coordinator to coordinate its efforts to comply with and carry out its responsibilities under Title II, Section 504.
  • DPD consider developing a grievance procedure for a person with a disability that can be filed with the ADA coordinator.
  • DPD consider modification of its handcuffing policy. When it is necessary to handcuff a person who is deaf or hard of hearing, personnel will handcuff the person in the front. This will allow the person to communicate using sign language or writing.
  • Officers Victor and Wiesman receive discipline and training for violations of the specific policies outlined in this decision.
  • The chief or his designee communicate this scenario to the training authority to get a more in-depth session for all Dayton Police Department officers on respectful interactions with the deaf community.
  • The newly created independent accountability auditor review the complaint and investigation process to determine how to make it more thorough and ensure public record requests are not being improperly denied.
  • The police reform committees to evaluate this case as it corresponds with the Community Engagement Committee recommendation for an alternative response model such as a mental health professional or social worker.
  • DPD Professional Standards Bureau should attach the investigator’s findings to the initial determination letter to help the complainant determine if they need to appeal the decision.
  • The city of Dayton revise the Citizens’ Appeal Board ordinance and procedures to allow for up to 30 days for reporting back to the complainant/appellant in order to facilitate the accurate, appropriate, and thorough findings of fact and recommendations.