Dayton commission says board had no authority to recommend police discipline

The Dayton City Commission says a civilian board overstepped its authority when it recommended discipline for police officers who were accused of misconduct by a resident who is deaf, mute and has cerebral palsy.

The resident, Jack Runser, also filed a civil lawsuit this week against the city, the police department and multiple officers seeking damages for allegedly violating his civil rights and causing other harm.

Last month, the Dayton Citizens’ Appeal Board issued a decision saying that Runser’s complaint against two officers should have been sustained and the officers should receive discipline and training.

But in a letter in response to that decision, Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley said the appeal board has no authority under the city charter to recommend discipline for officers.

Whaley, however, said the city commission agrees with many of the board’s recommendations, especially related to additional police training to better serve deaf citizens.

Whaley said further investigation into the appeal board’s claims is warranted and the city’s law department has recommended an independent investigator be put in charge.

“The city commission will use the independent review to determine what, if any, next steps will be taken,” she wrote.

The Fraternal Order of Police Lodge No. 44, the union representing Dayton police officers, said the accusations of police misconduct in this case were thoroughly investigated and the officers involved were exonerated of wrongdoing.

“The Citizens’ Appeal Board has released flagrant and meritless allegations against members of the Dayton Police Department,” wrote Jerome Dix, president of the Dayton FOP Lodge No. 44. “Their findings were presented with no factual basis or supporting evidence and fueled by emotion.”

But Runser’s attorney and one of his advocates claim police assaulted, injured and caused him emotional distress and he deserves to be compensated for their misconduct.

He filed a lawsuit seeking more than $75,000 in damages on Wednesday.

Runser, 50, said he was mistreated by officers Seth Victor and Joshua Wiesman in November when he was walking to the Dollar General store to buy coffee.

Runser said they acted improperly when they stopped, questioned, handcuffed and then transported him to the hospital.

Runser says he did not know what was going on and officers did not communicate with him. He also said his wrist was badly injured.

An internal police investigation cleared the officers of wrongdoing, but Runser appealed that decision to the Citizens’ Appeal Board.

After a hearing, the appeal board recommended officers Wiesman and Victor receive discipline and more training. The board sent those and other recommendations for policy and procedural changes to the city commission for review.

The board said the internal police investigation into Runser’s claims was not handled thoroughly and there should be a probe into whether false or untruthful reports were filed by law enforcement.

In a response letter dated May 13, Whaley wrote that the appeal board is supposed to review and make comments about the determinations of the Professional Standards Bureau, formerly known as internal affairs.

The board has no authority to discipline individual officers, and discipline is a personnel matter “which lies within the sole discretion of the director and chief of police,” she wrote.

The appeal board’s findings also were supported by legal counsel who also serves on Dayton’s Human Relations Council board, which is clearly a conflict of interest, Whaley wrote.

She said the severity of the claims made by the appeal board deserve investigation by an outside party. The law department will work to identify a “qualified attorney,” she said.

In a letter shared with the Dayton Daily News, FOP Lodge No. 44 President Dix said officers Victor and Weisman acted appropriately because they reasonably believed Runser needed medical assistance or was under the influence of drugs.

Runser’s disheveled appearance, hygiene and actions suggested he may need medical evaluation, and there was a communication gap, which was exacerbated by officers’ appropriate use of masks, Dix said.

“Concerned with Mr. Runser’s well-being, the officers transported Mr. Runser to a medical facility so he could receive a medical evaluation,” Dix wrote. “In doing so, the officers acted in full accordance with the department’s policies.”

On Wednesday, Runser’s attorney Ellen Graham Day filed a lawsuit claiming the officers assaulted and unlawfully detained and imprisoned her client without explaining to him why he was being arrested and taken to the hospital for evaluation.

The lawsuit claims the officers’ actions violated the Americans with Disabilities Act, his civil rights and their oath of office.

The complaint also accused city and police leadership of failing to properly train, supervise and discipline the officers involved in the case.

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