I-Team: 'Recycled cops' move from department to department despite discipline issues

Over the last six months, the WCPO I-team has collected records from 40 different police departments and reviewed thousands of disciplinary cases involving officers. Our motives are simple: We want to make sure the people who protect us and enforce our laws are worthy of the high level of trust the public gives them. Read more about this project and why we are doing it here.

ELMWOOD PLACE, Ohio -- Jacob Goodwin began working as police officer in Newtown in 2010, only to resign in 2011 when told several disciplinary actions would soon result in his termination.

Yet he went on to work for the Aberdeen Police Department, then landed in Elmwood Place, where he received several more complaints. One of those involved an incident in 2016 in which he was accused of “going in and out of consciousness” at the Elmwood police station while on the job, according to police disciplinary records the 9 On Your Side I-Team reviewed.

That incident led to Goodwin’s termination from the department and appears to have ended his career in law enforcement. But Goodwin is not the only example of a police officer who resigned in the face of disciplinary action or was fired only to get hired by another local law enforcement agency.

The I-Team reviewed thousands of disciplinary records from 40 police departments in the Tri-State. The I-Team's investigation found police departments in Elmwood Place and in some other small communities have a history of hiring disgraced cops that other departments have fired. About a dozen police officers have found new jobs as police officers after resigning or being fired due to disciplinary action locally in the past three years.

The I-Team also found that sometimes departments fail to do basic background checks that would quickly expose reasons to not hire officers who have run into trouble elsewhere.

Law enforcement experts told the I-Team this system of neglect makes it easier for police officers accused of repeated wrongdoing to remain in law enforcement.

Goodwin had worked as a part-time officer in Newtown starting in 2010. However, supervisors wrote that Goodwin “established a pattern of poor decision making ability.” After just a few months on the job, Goodwin brought police equipment while working a security detail that was not arranged through the department and during which he was not supposed to be identified as a police officer. He was later written up for working overtime without permission.

Then, in February of 2011, a Pinehurst Drive resident complained after she woke up and found Goodwin inside her home in the middle of the night after she left a garage door open. Goodwin’s supervisor wrote he “placed his life and residents life in unnecessary danger, and had no legal right to enter the residence.”

“Even though Officer Goodwin had good intentions, being a police officer requires having good decision making skills ... and we are under the opinion that further training would not improve Officer Goodwin's decision making skills,” police records state. “It is our recommendation that Officer Goodwin's employment be terminated with the Village of Newtown."

Goodwin was given the opportunity to resign before he was fired. He did.

The Aberdeen Police Department then hired Goodwin, but he resigned from that position in 2012. The I-Team wasn't able to determine why he resigned.

In January 2014, he started at Elmwood Place Police Department, where he continued to receive complaints.

In 2015, Officer Todd Armstrong complained about the way Goodwin and Officer Justin Habig handled an incident with a mentally ill man who made threats against himself and others. The pair said they would charge the man with "anything to lock his ass up," before a Cincinnati officer stepped in and took the man for a mental health evaluation, Armstrong wrote.

In December 2015, a manager at the Vine Street UDF filed a complaint stating that Goodwin had been behind the counter, ringing up himself and other customers.

Mayor Jerald Robertson called the complaint "disturbing" in a letter to Goodwin.

"Your behavior is not in my opinion a trivial event," he wrote. "Hopefully, merely a verbal warning should suffice in correcting it ... I see your behavior as taking advantage of your position as a police officer to do improper things."

One morning in April 2016, Chief Eric Bartlett asked another officer, Christopher Lind, why Goodwin wasn't answering his phone while on duty. When Lind returned to the police department, he found Goodwin "reclined in the chair appearing to be asleep."

"I woke Ofc. Goodwin and advised him to call Chief Bartlett back as soon as possible," Lind wrote. "During this time, Ofc. Goodwin seemed groggy and was not forming complete sentences or talking in a coherent manner. I felt that the safety of Ofc. Goodwin could be in jeopardy if he attempted to drive home ... he was going in and out of consciousness."

Goodwin's girlfriend gave him a ride home, but he returned about about an hour later looking for medication he said he had left behind. He "was sweating profusely and not making complete sense," Lind wrote. Goodwin later claimed it was medication to help with insomnia.

Because he was found unconscious on the job, the department ordered Goodwin to undergo a drug test. However, the lab found it did not believe the sample he gave was urine and they counted it as him refusing to take the test.

Jacob Goodwin

Bartlett recommended Goodwin be removed from the department. Robertson's successor as mayor, William Wilson, agreed with the chief's recommendation and wrote Goodwin "should be fired as soon as possible."

That was apparently the end of Goodwin's career in law enforcement, but it wasn't his last run-in with the law. Earlier this year, authorities arrested Goodwin and charged him with six counts of aggravated robbery and seven counts of robbery. Newtown Police Chief Tom Synan said a Newtown officer had recognized Goodwin's pickup truck from surveillance footage of a robbery.

Goodwin robbed three convenience stores, a pharmacy and a bar, according to the Hamilton County Sheriff's Office. When authorities searched Goodwin's home, they found weapons, police equipment and ballistic vests they believe he used in the robberies.

"Our responsibility is to uphold a standard of service and protect the public from harm, which we did when he was released from the Newtown Police Department and now six years later," Synan said.

 

‘The one officer I didn’t want’

Goodwin drew some complaints while working in Elmwood Place, but Officer Justin Habig faced more complaints from the public than any other officer in the department. Habig was eventually fired, only to later have two other police departments hire him.

On Oct. 24, 2015, Officer Todd Armstrong believed one incident had been handled in such an unprofessional and unsafe way that he filed a formal complaint against Habig.

It was about 4:40 a.m. Oct. 24, 2015, and Habig cut off oncoming traffic without activating his emergency lights to turn and stop a cream-colored Lincoln Town Car that had passed, according to Armstrong.

When Habig did turn on his lights, the driver pulled over and a passenger jumped out and ran. Armstrong blocked the sidewalk with his police cruiser. Habig already had his gun out and was telling the man to get down. Armstrong joined him, but the man was on his knees and refused to lay on his stomach.

Habig tucked his gun close to his body, walked up to the man and "placed his firearm within 2 inches of the suspect's forehead telling him 'just give me a reason, just give me a reason motherf---er,'" Armstrong wrote in his complaint. "Habig grabbed the suspect by the front of his shirt and jerked him to the street face first."

Despite Armstrong's complaint, there's no record of Habig facing any discipline for that incident, or for any of the other complaints made against him, other than letters from the mayor.

The Elmwood Place Police Department hired Habig in September 2014. Habig wrote more tickets than anybody else, and some higher-ups liked his aggressive manner, former Mayor Jerald Robertson said. But Habig also drew many complaints. Robertson wrote in a letter to Habig that he had more complaints than all other Elmwood Place officers combined.

Candice Roper was one of the people who complained. Roper was six-and-a-half months pregnant when she said Habig -- who was not in uniform -- repeatedly kicked her in the leg and shoved her into a police car after another officer arrested her in November 2015.

"He was arrogant and he told me nothing was going to happen” about her complaint. Roper said. "And it didn't."

Robertson addressed the incident in a letter to Habig after Roper complained.

"I'm disturbed by what appears to be rough treatment of a pregnant woman," Robertson wrote. But Habig faced no further discipline.

Just days earlier, James Williams had complained that Habig, who had pulled him over for alleged traffic violations, pointed a gun at him and shouted, "Pull your f---ing hands out or I will shoot you, motherf---er."

Habig wrote in a police report that Williams had been speeding and ran a red light. Williams denied that.

"He snatched me out of the vehicle," Williams said. "He lifted me up and slammed me on the ground and talked about, 'Don't fight me.' 'I'm not fighting you, bruh. I don't even know what's going on.'"

In one case, a delivery driver complained that Habig ticketed him after he stopped to ask Habig for directions.

Officer Armstrong filed complaints about Habig on two other occasions, writing that Habig was "unstable and unable to control his emotions, or conduct himself in a professional manner."

Robertson, the former mayor, said Habig was "the one officer I didn't want." There was one week when he received four complaints about Habig.

"That's more than you would expect to get in two to three years," Robertson said.

On Jan. 7, 2016, Wilson, terminated Habig's employment with the department "due to [Habig's] unsatisfactory performance."

But despite the unusual number of complaints and being fired after less than two years on the job, Habig landed a job with the Addyston Police Department. Then, the Cleves Police Department hired Habig on Aug. 18, 2016 as a part time officer. He was promoted to full time this year. Chief Rick Jones wrote that Habig came "highly recommended" from Addyston and he has received no complaints about Habig's service.

Same issue, different department

The I-Team previously reported on former Blue Ash Officer Chris Zielinski and ex-Colerain Township Sgt. Joe Redmond, who both avoided criminal charges by agreeing to resign from their jobs after unrelated but similar cases of improper use of Ohio's Law Enforcement Automated Data System, also known as LEADS. But state records show they were not required to give up their certifications, meaning they could still work as police.

After the New Miami Police Department hired Redmond as an officer in May 2015, Chief Danny Gilbert was surprised to learn that Redmond had a lifetime suspension from LEADS.

"It should be noted that had I known of the LEADS suspension, Mr. Redmond would never have been hired," Gilbert wrote in a letter to system administrators. He asked administrators to reinstate Redmond's access to the system after asking Redmond what had happened.

"It is my opinion that Mr. Redmond has been truthful with me," Gilbert wrote. "He appears in all aspects to be an open, honest, and forthcoming individual. I do not believe that he is attempting to mislead me with his statements. I have been in law enforcement for 32 years and consider myself a strong judge of a person's character and honesty."

Before going to New Miami, Redmond had worked at the Colerain Police Department for more than 13 years. During that time, he improperly used the LEADS system at least five times to look up information on his then-fiancee and, later, a man who was romantically involved with a co-worker of Redmond's who Redmond was also involved with.

Redmond ran the man's license plate while he was on duty and stopped by the woman's house, according to police records. The woman told investigators Redmond would then drive by the other man's house when she was there and once followed her home.

But LEADS is not in place so police can look up whoever they want. The system is only supposed to be used "for the administration of criminal justice." Those who use it for other reasons could face a charge of unauthorized use of property - computer, cable or telecommunication property.

But the department never charged Redmond. After he was first caught looking up his fiancee in 2014, the Hamilton County Prosecutor's Office declined to press charges. He was suspended for 48 hours.

"The incident that occurred does not represent the quality of the officer," Colerain Chief Daniel Meloy wrote in a letter to Redmond's ex-fiancee in response to her complaint.

After the second incident, Redmond resigned.

Once Redmond was working at New Miami, LEADS administrators agreed to give Redmond access to the database again, but warned that New Miami would be liable for any misuse.

But in April 2016, another ex-fiancee of Redmond filed a petition for a domestic violence civil protection order. In it, she alleged that Redmond had used the LEADS system to obtain information about her.

New Miami fired Redmond on May 10, 2016.

The ‘officer shuffle’

"Some researchers refer to this as the 'officer shuffle,' moving from one agency to another after getting in trouble," said Phil Stinson, an associate professor of criminal justice at Bowling Green State University. "It's a problem."

Stinson said the "officer shuffle" is prevalent, partly because many smaller police departments can't afford to pay for a recruit to attend a police academy, so they need to hire people who already have their peace officer certification.

"As a result, you do provide opportunities for people who have washed out from one agency to be hired in other places," Stinson said.

In such cases, Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine said he believes it would be better to include not just a resignation, but also provisions that the officer turn in his or her certificate to be an officer in the state of Ohio.

Also, the state should create and maintain a database documenting findings of police misconduct as a way to reduce the shuffle of bad police, DeWine said.

“We should have some system -- we have 900 police departments in the state of Ohio -- some system that when someone is disciplined, someone leaves under a cloud, that there ought to be a database so the new police department, who is not being told by that officer where they worked before, can go into that and see what that officer has done before,” DeWine said.

However, DeWine has not told the I-Team about any action he plans to take in regard to this issue.