The January 2018 firing of a Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office sergeant who was responsible for making public a video of the November 2015 pepper-spraying of a restrained jail inmate was “arbitrary and discriminatory,” according to an an arbitrator ruling obtained by the Dayton Daily News.
Sgt. Ransley Creech was reinstated in mid-December and was instead given a five-day suspension for failing to provide the video to administration when it was noted as missing.
Creech then went on administrative leave before agreeing to resign Jan. 11 under a settlement agreement obtained by the Dayton Daily News. The sheriff’s office will pay Creech $82,892.25 in back pay and $142,107.75 to settle all employment-related legal claims.
Arbitrator Sandra Mendel Furman wrote in her ruling that Creech should not have been the only employee disciplined after it became public that then-Sgt. Judith Sealey pepper-sprayed Amber Swink while Swink was in a seven-point harness. Sealey was promoted to captain Feb. 1, 2016.
The video released on a local attorney’s website in September 2016 spurred a lawsuit by Swink settled for $375,000, a federal probe for which results were never announced, a misdemeanor criminal conviction against Sealey, and the formation of a citizen committee to recommend jail operations improvements.
“(Creech) stood by the sidelines and acted to preserve ‘evidence’ with others who were equally appalled,” Mendel Furman wrote in the 39-page arbitration report. “Then evidence disappears; Sealey is promoted and nothing more occurs.
“(Creech) didn’t break through the ‘thin blue line’ precipitously, cavalierly or with malicious animus. He waited many months; sought counsel from his father, the OPBA (Ohio Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association) and outside counsel. This is not the action of a rash, impetuous, disloyal and vindictive employee.”
Neither Creech, then-Sheriff Phil Plummer — who is now a state lawmaker — nor recently sworn-in Sheriff Rob Streck responded to messages seeking comment about Creech’s reinstatement or the resignation agreement.
A message seeking comment from the OPBA was not immediately returned.
A spokeswoman for the office said Streck was unable Friday to respond to questions about Creech or other portions of the arbitrator’s ruling due to his schedule.
Mendel Furman’s ruling noted that no other former or current sheriff’s office employee faced internal discipline, let alone termination, for failing to hold Sealey accountable or for lost files, including the surveillance video of the pepper-spraying.
Other employees named in the report are Sealey and a sergeant who both retired on medical disability after the incident; the former jail commander who retired after being demoted for another matter; and five sheriff’s office employees who faced no consequences since the incident, including Streck.
“Such a result unjustifiably and wrongly writes progressive discipline and just cause out of the (collective bargaining agreement),” Mendel Furman ruled. “The record firmly establishes a significant time period existed for the Department to do the right thing with Sealey. Instead it promoted her. The record clearly established a group of persons with culpability for some of the charges (Creech) alone bore. None were disciplined.”
Mendel Furman wrote that Streck claimed to learn of the video only after it surfaced in the media, though Sealey stated that Streck told her she was being disciplined in March 2016 for not filing all the required reports in the incident.
Neither Plummer nor Streck testified during arbitration hearings Aug. 23 and Oct. 4, 2018.
Mendel Furman wrote that Creech, who began with the department in 2002 and was promoted to sergeant in 2012, previously had a clean disciplinary record other than a one-day suspension that was amended down to letter of caution.
“The discipline is more about the lawsuit and its aftermath, adverse publicity, computer crashing and embarrassment caused by his reporting out the Swink/Sealey interaction,” she wrote.
The report includes summaries of arguments for and against Creech’s firing. Sheriff’s office attorneys argued that Creech withheld evidence of what he believed to be criminal activity from the sheriff’s office and instead distributed it to the public.
SPECIAL PROJECT: Justice in the Jailhouse
“The department cannot trust that Creech would follow the law, policies and procedures,” they argued. “No lesser level of discipline would correct Creech’s attitude and behavior.”
Police union attorneys countered that the internal probe that led to Creech’s firing “was never about getting to the bottom of the matter. It was about assigning blame to the one employee who called the department out for blatant misconduct.”