BETHEL, Ohio — Bethel’s former police chief has filed a complaint in federal court against the village and its mayor, alleging that a smear campaign against him forced his resignation earlier this year.
On Feb. 4, Bethel Mayor Jay Noble issued a memo outlining 11 complaints against then-Chief Steve Teague and recommended his removal from office. Those complaints ranged from violating public health policies during the COVID-19 pandemic to mishandling Black Lives Matter protests and counter-protests, along with conduct unbecoming of Bethel's police chief, mistreatment of employees and the "inappropriate" euthanasia of two cows outside village limits.
Teague was placed on leave as a 28-page independent audit highlighted several police department issues like lack of manpower, administrative staff, outdated facilities and training.
But in a memo Noble sent to Teague and the village council, the mayor dismissed the charges seeking the chief's ouster and Teague was removed from administrative leave.
Later that month, Teague resigned as chief after the village's actions "made working conditions so intolerable that a reasonable person under the circumstances would have felt compelled to resign," his attorneys wrote.
Prior to this, Teague’s attorneys said, the chief and mayor had disagreements about the number of traffic tickets issued by Bethel police, having Bethel officers guard Noble’s properties around the village and employment and wage practices during the pandemic.
In Wednesday’s filing, attorneys for Teague said the former chief was notified he was placed on administrative leave but did not receive specific reasons why. At a Feb. 11 hearing before the village council, the administration was allowed to present its case first with Noble as its witness.
Another hearing was set for March 11, but Noble dismissed the charges days before Teague could present his case, “further evidencing the sham nature of the proceeding, and depriving Teague of his constitutional and statutory right to present his case and disprove the false Charges and allegations.”
Noble continued to spread false statements about Teague and his conduct to other village officials after dismissing the charges, Teague’s attorneys wrote.
“Noble’s false and malicious statements about Teague, which he refused to retract or permit Teague to publicly refute, destroyed Teague’s reputation, credibility, and integrity, and undermined Teague’s authority, with the BPD, other Village employees, and Village residents,” the complaint read.
Teague also alleges that Noble and the village council violated Ohio open meeting laws by conducting “secret, non-public discussions and deliberations" to place Teague on administrative leave and terminate his employment.
Teague, who now resides in Texas, has requested a jury trial and is seeking no less than $75,000 in damages as well as public retractions of false statements made by Noble and the council. He also seeks a declaration that the village violated his First and Fourteenth Amendment rights and violated open meetings laws, one that also declares "invalid any decision or formal action of any kind that resulted from the secret meetings."
"The actions of Noble, Village Council, and the Village are unconscionable," Teague's attorneys wrote. "Noble and the Village destroyed Teague’s liberty and property interested protected by the U.S. and Ohio Constitutions without affording Teague any due process. Defendants denied Teague any and every chance to respond to the false allegations and Charges made against him. Doing so violated Teague’s rights guaranteed to him under the U.S. Constitution and federal law. This action seeks to right these egregious wrongs."
Teague is represented by Cincinnati's Lundrigan Law Group.
WCPO has reached out to Noble for comment.