SIDNEY — The discharge of former Sidney Police Sgt. Warren Melerine was upheld by an independent arbitrator this week.
Melerine was dismissed for excessive use of force after he fired a “bean bag” shotgun and struck a white male during an incident in May.
Arbitrator David L. Beckman denied Melerine’s grievance filed in August in protest of his termination on July 14, 2017. The grievance claimed Melerine was terminated without just cause, which violates the collective bargaining agreement between the Fraternal Order of Police Ohio Labor Council Inc., which is the union representinghim, and the city of Sidney.
“On May 23, 2017, while interacting with a Sidney resident, a representative of the Sidney Police Department discharged a non-lethal device commonly known as a ‘bean bag’ shotgun, striking the individual in question,” Police Chief William Balling said in an August statement. “Following the policies and procedures established by the Sidney Police Department and certified by the state of Ohio, a use of force review committee was convened and a determination was made that the use of force was not justified.”
According to the arbitrator’s post-hearing brief this week, the incident occurred during the early morning hours of May 23, when Melerine went to speak with an individual about a “conditional threat” made toward a 911 dispatcher. During a 911 inquiry call, the man told the dispatcher that he would shoot him if he came to his home. The report noted that a conditional threat is not a crime.
The brief reveals that when responding to speak with the individual, Melerine misled three police officers under his command, telling them the man had threatened to shoot police officers. Within minutes upon arrival, the report said, Melerine loaded his 12-gauge bean bag shotgun, “which never should have been pulled out.”
As the victim walked toward one of the other officers who had a Taser out, Melerine — without warning — repeatedly shot the resident with his bean bag shotgun. Melerine discharged the gun because the resident did not obey his order to get on the ground, the report said. The officer with the Taser did not fire, because he had determined the man was not a threat.
One of the officers on the scene admitted that the victim did not come at Melerine, but that it was “kind of a standoff thing.” The victim was intoxicated, yelled profanities and “flipped Melerine off,” but the report said the victim posed no threat to the officers that night. It stated no one saw the victim with a weapon, no one told the victim to show his hands and no one heard the victim threaten to harm officers.
After shooting the victim repeatedly with the bean bag shotgun, Melerine did not call for an ambulance. Instead, the sergeant left him unattended in the police cruiser for 15 minutes before transporting him to the hospital for treatment.
Also, when walking the victim to the cruiser, Melerine forced him in, despite the victim’s pleading for time to get in because he was handcuffed. When forcing him in the vehicle, Melerine caused the victim to land between the seat and the cage.
When arriving at the hosptial, the victim complained he was having trouble breathing and “expressed the view that all of his ribs on one side were broken.” The brief said one of the officers commented that the victim’s rib area was “bloody and looked bad.” It noted that two weeks later, the wounds were infected, black and necrotic.
Melerine did not obtain statements from any of the witnesses. He also sent the three officers home after their shift, telling two of them they could write a statement later and the third that he did not need to write a statement at all about the incident.
He also failed to promptly notify his supervisor about his use of force, did not book the bean bag shells into evidence, lied to the prosecutor, overcharged the victim, and initially held the victim in jail with no bond. Later, Melerine requested the judge to hold the victim on a high bond. Melerine also lied during the police department’s investigation into his use of force.
The city of Sidney contended that Melerine’s behavior was “nearly identical to (his) excessive use of force exhibited nine years earlier.” During the 2008 incident, Melerine Tased a handcuffed individual because he was noncompliant. The city had hoped Melerine would improve, the report notes.
Beckman said that much of what Melerine had done in his career was “admirable.” He described Melerine as “tough-minded.” However, he noted that tough-minded cops must possess and exercise good judgement in their daily decisions. He also pointed out that Melerine was given an opportunity to learn from the previous incident of excessive force, but that the May 2017 incident shows no learning had occurred.
“I hold that the city is not being unreasonable in taking the position that discharge is a proper penalty for the evidence in this case,” Beckman said in the brief.
He also said that the incident is not a minor offense, which would be subject to progessive discipline and, therefore, he could not conclude the collective bargaining agreement was violated.
Melerine was first hired as an officer, Oct. 5, 2003. He was promoted to sergeant, June 30, 2013. In 2016, he was honored with other officers with a life-saving award for courageous and compassionate service in varying life-threatening situations.
When asked for a comment on the decision, Balling said, “We are committed to exceeding the community’s expectations and hold ourselves to a higher standard. We will be moving forward and continue to strive to provide the highest level of service and protection to our citizens.”
Reach the writer at 937-538-4823