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Meeting that was supposed to detail Kyle Plush's death investigation canceled

Prosecutor: Review may be done by next week
Police to release details in Kyle Plush's death
Posted at 8:12 AM, May 02, 2018
and last updated 2018-05-02 19:34:00-04

CINCINNATI -- Hamilton County Prosecutor Joe Deters pumped the brakes on a meeting Wednesday that would've revealed details surrounding the death of 16-year-old Kyle Plush last month at a Madisonville school.

Deters served the city with a subpoena asking that nothing from the Cincinnati Police Department's investigation, including photos and video footage, be released to the public until his office completes a review.

His office also will go over a report from Hamilton County Sheriff Jim Neil, whose deputy was directing traffic at Seven Hills School the day Plush died.

"There's nothing nefarious about it," Deters told 700WLW's Scott Sloan on Wednesday morning. "It's just we want to make sure we've seen everything."

Cincinnati police officials were scheduled to talk with city council at 9 a.m. Wednesday about how the teen died in a minivan at Seven Hills School, even though he called 911 twice. Vice Mayor Christopher Smitherman said the subpoena arrived about a half-hour before that meeting was to have begun. WCPO first reported Deters' plan after we spoke with him Tuesday night.

Deters told Sloan he'd talked earlier Tuesday evening with Plush's father, who "expressed some concern about some still photographs which I have not seen." Those photos apparently show other students. Deters said he called Mayor John Cranley about that concern, and they agreed the best way forward was for Deters to issue a grand jury subpoena.

He said he expected his review would be completed early next week.

"Once we're done, I agree, the public should see it," Deters told Sloan. "We're not trying to hide anything. I'm not protecting anybody. I just want to be sure we know what happened before we release it."

On several occasions, Sloan incorrectly described Wednesday's special committee meeting as a "press conference." The meeting was not planned or publicized that way when the city announced it two days ago.

During their live interview, Sloan didn't ask Deters about the police officers' response, and Deters didn't address the many questions surrounding what they did that day -- whether they went to the actual address they were dispatched to, whether they got out of their cruiser, and whether they had access to the GPS location from Plush's cellphone that was within feet of where he'd be found dead hours later.

Instead, the men primarily focused on the city's long-troubled 911 center.

A preliminary investigation revealed technical problems and human error may have played roles in first responders' failure to locate Plush. The 911 operator who took Plush's second call said she couldn’t hear him when he described the make, model and color of the minivan where he was trapped and suffocating.

Deters claimed there were simple software changes the city of Cincinnati could make "right now" that would've prevented Plush's death. The city hasn't detailed those changes in its multiple hearings about the 911 center over the past few weeks.

Sloan brought up Capt. Jeff Butler's allegation that funds for the 911 center had been misused, and asked if that would warrant criminal charges. WCPO has asked Butler's attorney for records supporting the allegation, but we've not been provided with any.

Deters said with what he knows at this point, no criminal charges would be warranted.

"Kyle's death is a horrible tragedy, not just for his family but for the community," Deters said. "And it should be a siren -- somebody needs to fix this system. There's no reason why some group like the city of Cincinnati doesn't have a system in place that could've saved Kyle's life. That is the reality of it."

Three minutes of body camera footage, which Deters permitted the police department to release, shows two police officers in their car looking for Plush. Sgt. Dan Hils, Cincinnati police union president, said that footage does not cover the entire 11-minute search.

The Hamilton County deputy who had been directing traffic looked for Plush on foot after talking with the officers but he never found his van, Chief Deputy Mark Schoonover said.

Deters also launched a broadside against Cincinnati's city manager form of government during Wednesday's radio interview, claiming it leaves no one accountable. That's been a popular refrain from some local power players who've pushed for a strong-mayor form of government, in which a politician is the city's top executive, for 20 years now. The city moved away from that style of governing in the 1920s, replacing it with a professional city manager as CEO and a civil service system, because of how the Republican machine used political patronage to control City Hall.

"That can't happen today," Deters said.

But recently, county government was hit with a similar allegation: Tracy Winkler, the former clerk of courts, lost her re-election bid in 2016 to Democrat Aftab Pureval after emails showed she asked her employees to volunteer for her campaign.

In Cincinnati's current form of government, Sloan alleged, "The crook is the city manager." He offered no proof of his claim.

Harry Black, who was Cincinnati's city manager at the time Plush died, has not been charged criminally. He did, however, leave under pressure a week and a half ago. Councilman Greg Landsman, a crucial fifth vote for Black's ouster, said he thought the manager was distracted by an ongoing feud with Cranley and wasn't fully focused on fixing the 911 center. Four council members had already supported Black's removal over allegations he retaliated against city employees and went to a topless bar during a city business trip.

Rather than face almost certain termination, Black resigned April 21. He still is a defendant in several lawsuits from current and former city employees.

Since then, Acting City Manager Patrick Duhaney and police officials have laid out a detailed action plan for the 911 center, focused on staffing, morale and technology. Plush's father attended Monday's meeting when city officials presented that plan.