It is important that I give you my perspective on recent incidents involving our city of Beachwood Police Department, more specifically the release of the video dated June 27, 2019.
The Fifth Amendment of the Constitution of the United States proclaims that no one shall be “deprived of life, liberty or property without due process of law.” The 14th Amendment, ratified in 1868, uses the same exact words, called the Due Process Clause, to describe a legal obligation of all states. The standard of due process applies not only to criminal law, but has become an essential part of civil actions and even administrative proceedings regarding employee, student or membership disputes. However, with the advent of social media, this vital Constitutional right is being violated by both sides of the political spectrum.
Recently, here in the city of Beachwood, for the first time in our city’s history, Mayor Martin S. Horwitz made the decision to release the unredacted – meaning the raw version – of the videotape of a police incident, despite the fact that the incident is still under investigation. While this may be the mayor’s prerogative for our city, I, as chairperson of the Ohio Casino Control Commission, similarly have oversight of a law enforcement agency whose officers are also routinely recorded, albeit mostly via private surveillance systems, rather than agency-issued dash or body cameras.
These recordings often prove instrumental in the prosecution of criminal, civil and administrative matters. Our agency has consistently found these recordings are one piece of evidence in a much larger investigative process. That is, without the full context of an investigation, a particular recording may unjustly prejudice one or more parties involved, including officers and civilians. Accordingly, I believe that releasing evidence before an investigation is complete poses a substantial risk to the fundamental fairness of the adjudication process, including potentially tainting any reviewing body, such as grand juries, petit juries and the public.
City council does not have authority over the administrative policies of the police department, including the use of body cams, hiring and firing, the release of footage, paid administrative leave, etc. The police department is unionized and functions as a department within the city of Beachwood. The mayor is also the safety director. Therefore, the chief of police reports directly to the mayor. This structure is common in many cities in Ohio. In order for council to encourage or influence policy, the process dictates that council should financially support the policy. Ultimately, there are layers – council, mayor, the police department and an umbrella of laws, civil service rules and collective bargaining laws all in place so that no entity can interfere or insert themselves into areas that are not their responsibility.
For this reason, police reform and any desired structural changes are very challenging to pursue or alter in a short amount of time. This is not to say that there should not be a movement toward change, my point is that the existing structure makes change very hard and slow to occur.
The system is not nimble and malleable. The investigation of the June 27, 2019, incident is under criminal review with the Special Prosecutions Section of the Ohio Attorney General’s Office and there is no time limit on investigations. It is in our best interest to wait for a complete and thorough investigation. It is not best to rush an investigation. It is essential that we let it go the distance to cover all bases.
In spite of these inherent challenges, please remember that we all want fairness. Members of the law enforcement community are first and foremost citizens of this nation and deserve the same rights, such as due process, reserved for all Americans.
We are living in unprecedented times. As a result, everyone is operating in a new zone, and we see the results of this stress ranging in higher suicide rates, increased food and alcohol consumption, as well as the need for mental health counseling and financial distress assistance.
By this commentary, I am in no way endorsing the use of unreasonable force. I believe that most of the officers serving Beachwood do so with respect, pride and courage on behalf of the community. I am, however, unwilling to rush to justice without giving that officer or any other citizen of the community their rights as Americans, including the important right of due process.
I am here to serve the community at large, which includes both our citizens and our employees; I am not and will not serve as a rubber stamp for one faction or another.
June E. Taylor is chair of the Ohio Casino Control Commission having been appointed by former Gov. John Kasich in 2011, and reappointed by Gov. Mike DeWine in 2018. She served on the city of Beachwood charter review committee in 2016 and was appointed to the Beachwood City Council in January 2018. She was elected to serve on Beachwood City Council in November 2019. She is the first African-American to serve on Beachwood City Council. She and her family have resided in Beachwood for more than 20 years and are members of Anshe Chesed Fairmount Temple in Beachwood.