CINCINNATI — In the wake of nationwide protests demanding policing reform, Ohio Governor Mike DeWine is pushing a comprehensive plan that he believes will make it easier to identify problem officers and get rid of them.
"I think this is a real opportunity," DeWine told the WCPO 9 I-Team. "We tolerate too often a police officer who has shown that he or she is not a good police officer."
DeWine's plan requires law enforcement agencies to submit use of force reports and disciplinary actions against officers to a public state database. Police departments would be required to check the database before hiring officers.
"You need to be able to have one place to go to check them out," DeWine said.
The governor also wants the legislature to create a state board to oversee and enforce tougher standards for peace officers, similar to the boards regulating physicians, barbers and other professionals who need a state license to practice.
DeWine said he is particularly concerned about officers who are fired or resign from one department following complaints about their conduct, but are still able to keep their state peace officer certification and be hired by another.
"It's a problem," said Bowling Green State University Professor Phil Stinson, who has researched police misconduct for the last 15 years. "As a result, you provide opportunities for people who have washed out from one agency to be hired in other places."
Stinson believes that for policing reform to be meaningful, it must address officers who are fired or resign following unresolved complaints against them, then get hired by other departments, which may or may not be aware of their work history.
Cleves Interim Police Chief Justin Habig
In September 2014, the Village of Elmwood Place hired Justin Habig as a police officer.
Habig wrote a lot of tickets, but he also received more complaints from the public than any other Elmwood Place officer, former Elmwood Place Mayor Jerald Robertson told the I-Team in 2017.
On December 28, 2015, one of Robertson's last days as mayor, he issued two memorandums documenting verbal warnings to Habig about his behavior as an Elmwood Place police officer.
"He was the one officer I didn't want," said Robertson during his 2017 interview with the I-Team.
On January 7, 2016, Elmwood Place's new mayor, William Wilson, fired Habig.
"As you are aware, you are a probationary employee of the Elmwood Place Police Department," wrote Wilson. "Please be advised that due to your unsatisfactory performance I am terminating your employment with the Department effective immediately."
Three people filed written complaints against Habig accusing him of using excessive force as an Elmwood Place officer over a four-week period in October and November 2015.
In a statement provided to the I-Team by his attorney, Todd McMurtry, Habig denied using excessive force in those cases and insisted he acted properly while trying to control three suspects who resisted during their arrests.
Elmwood Place Officer Todd Armstrong filed a written complaint against Habig accusing him of using excessive force on a suspect.
In his complaint, Armstrong wrote that on October 24, 2015, Habig turned around in an intersection without using his emergency lights, then sped after a vehicle that was going 25 mph.
Before the car stopped, a passenger jumped out of the vehicle and tried to run from police, according to Armstrong's complaint.
Armstrong wrote that officers stopped the man. The suspect followed police orders to get on his knees, but he refused to obey officers' commands to lie flat on the pavement.
Then, Habig walked up next to the man, put a gun within two inches of the suspect's head and told him, "Just give me a reason, mother f*****," according to Armstrong's complaint.
In his statement to the I-Team, Habig disputed the allegations in Armstrong's written complaint.
Habig said he followed the vehicle because it raced by him, and then the car either crashed or stopped suddenly. Habig admitted pulling a gun on the suspect but denied putting the weapon to the man's head and threatening him.
Habig said Armstrong didn't arrive until after the situation was stabilized.
Candice Roper also filed a written complaint against Habig in 2015.
Roper accused Habig of assaulting her during her arrest on November 16, 2015, for domestic violence.
According to the Elmwood Place police report filed by Officer Joseph Shook, a witness said Roper chased a man and hit him.
The charge against Roper was dismissed, according to the Hamilton County Court of Clerk's website.
In her complaint, Roper wrote that she was 6 1/2 months pregnant with twins.
She had been handcuffed and placed in the back seat of a police car and was struggling to get her leg inside the vehicle when Habig arrived wearing a Bengals sweatshirt and said "I got this," Roper wrote in her complaint.
Elmwood Place records do not indicate if Habig was on-duty during the incident.
Roper wrote that Habig "kicked me in my right leg several times then shoved my body in the back of vehicle hitting my head and hurting my body."
In a statement provided by his attorney, Habig said Roper lied about the incident and resisted arrest.
"I used no force while bracing her leg into the cruiser with my foot as we attempted to close the car door," Habig responded in the statement. "I used my foot because she was violently kicking at us and to keep the door from being closed."
Habig also noted that the police report indicated that Roper did not have health problems or injuries at the time of the arrest.
In Mayor Robertson's memorandum to Habig, Robertson claimed Officer Shook told him that Roper "was acting badly" and that Shook "had considered filing a resisting arrest charge against her."
Roper was not charged with resisting arrest.
James Williams filed a complaint against Habig, too.
He accused Habig of excessive force during a November 21, 2015, traffic stop.
According to Habig, Williams was driving nearly twice the 25 mph speed limit, ran a red light and tried to elude him after Habig turned on his siren and emergency lights.
In his written complaint, Williams said Habig "came to the car yelling at me with his gun pointed at my face!!" Then, Williams' complaint said, Habig pulled him out of the car and pushed him to the ground, even though he was not resisting.
Habig denied using the force described by Williams.
"All of these complaints are uninvestigated allegations until they are investigated thoroughly for validity, which is a process that was never conducted," Habig stated in the statement his attorney provided to the I-Team.
Habig's statement added, "I am confident that had any investigation been conducted and protocol was followed by the village, I would have been exonerated on all claims."
In April 2016, three months after Elmwood Place terminated Habig, the Addyston Police Department hired him as a part-time officer.
In July 2016, Habig got a second job as a part-time officer. This time with the Cleves Police Department.
Habig resigned from Addyston in April 2017 to became a full-time police officer in Cleves, according to Habig's attorney, Todd McMutry.
He is now the Cleves Interim Police Chief.
There are no written complaints about Habig's conduct during his nearly four years as a Cleves officer, said Mike Rahall, the Cleves Village Administrator.
Habig has received commendations for his police work in Cleves, including an August 17, 2018 letter by Hamilton County Court of Common Pleas Judge Steven Martin.
Martin wrote to then Cleves Police Chief Rick Jones that "the case Officer Habig put together was so strong that the defendant had no choice but to enter a plea of guilty."
Several residents also wrote letters that complimented Habig's demeanor and professionalism.
But 1,164 people have signed a petition on the Change.org website demanding that Cleves "Remove Interim Chief of Police Habig" from the department.
Change.org promotes itself as a platform for change. It claims nearly 400 million people have taken action through the organization's website.
The next meeting of the Cleves Village Council is scheduled for July 8.
Cleves Village Administrator Mike Rahall told the I-Team the council may discuss issues related to the Cleves Police Department.
It's unclear if they will discuss Habig.
Former Police Officer Steve Linville
As a Newport police officer from January 2016-October 2018, Steve Linville delivered blows to the heads of seven civilians, according to use-of-force reports provided by the Newport Police Department.
In 2017, the I-Team reviewed use-of-force reports provided by 30 police departments in the Cincinnati area. Our investigation found that from 2016-2018, Linville threw more punches and knee strikes to the head than any other police officer in the 30 departments.
In every case involving Linville, the Newport Police Department determined his use-of-force was justified, according to Newport police records reviewed by the I-Team.
But Geoffrey Alpert, a University of South Carolina criminology professor who taught at the FBI National Academy and conducts research on high-risk police activities, expressed concern about officers delivering blows to the head.
Head strikes are "always a bad idea unless deadly force is justified," Alpert told the I-Team in 2018.
Alpert did not address the specific incidents involving Linville.
Linville delivered up to seven closed-fist punches to the face of Marcus Godfrey during a May 11, 2018, arrest, according to the Newport Police Department's use-of-force report on the incident. The same report mentions Linville punched Godfrey two or three times in the abdomen.
Newport police body camera video showed Godfrey pleading with Linville and other Newport officers to not arrest his friend for disorderly conduct.
The body camera recording shows officers repeatedly telling Godfrey to step back. When Godfrey stepped forward again, Linville shoved Godfrey and told him he was "under arrest."
Then, the body camera video shows Linville punching Godfrey in the face while telling him he's under arrest and ordering Godfrey to get down and put his hands behind his back.
"Why are you punching me?" Godfrey asked Linville.
The Newport police use-of-force report states that Linville claimed he repeatedly punched Godfrey because he feared for his safety and Godfrey resisted arrest.
The Newport Police Department considered the use of force justified and credited Linville's "empty-handed strikes" for "limiting the level of injury" to Godfrey.
Police body camera video shows Godfrey had a bloody, busted lip and swollen face.
The Newport Police Department determined that Linville's use of force complied with its policy.
In October 2018, the I-Team asked Chief Collins if Linville's head strikes to Godfrey were an appropriate use-of-force.
"That was improper. No one is denying that," said Collins, who retired in 2019.
Prior to making those comments to the I-Team, Collins had personally signed off on the police department's determination that Linville's use-of-force on Godfrey was justified, according to the use-of-force report for that incident.
The Newport Police Department never disciplined Linville for his use-of-force.
The department disciplined Linville twice in 2018 for verbal outbursts with the public, according to Linville's Newport police personnel records.
On February 17, 2018 Linville responded to a murder. The suspect was at-large and a crowd of people pushed toward officers, according to Linville's Newport police personnel records.
Linville's police body camera recorded him arguing with a man and cursing him.
"Get the f*** out of my face," Linville told the man. Then, the body camera recorded Linville telling him to "shut the f*** up."
The police department gave Linville a written reprimand for his conduct.
On August 26, 2018, Linville got into an argument with a man in a Newport restaurant. After turning on his body camera, Linville twice told the man to "shut up."
Linville's body camera also recorded him calling the man "Junior" and telling him that "you're real hard aren't you," according to Linville's Newport police personnel records.
Linville received an 80-hour suspension for the argument in the restaurant.
Prior to working in Newport, Linville had been an officer with two law enforcement agencies.
The Boone County Sheriff's Department hired Linville as a probationary deputy in June 2012.
Linville received mostly average ratings on his reviews, according to Linville's personnel records.
However, his supervisors expressed concerns about his ability to perform as an officer.
In a March 9, 2013 observation report about Linville, a deputy noted that Linville was "unable to control his emotions preventing tunnel vision causing a liability issue."
Three weeks after that report, Linville resigned from the sheriff's department.
In April 2014, the Dayton Police Department hired Linville as an officer.
In June and July 2014, Linville recevied verbal counseling three times for the way he treated the public, according to Linville's Dayton personnel records.
Linville's Dayton police records show he received a verbal reprimand for "yelling and degrading subjects in a vulgar manner" in August 2014.
The verbal reprimand also cited him for insubordination for not following orders. In his response, Linville insisted he never intentionally refused to follow orders.
In December 2014, the police department extended his probationary status for one to six months following concerns about Linville's "aggressive driving" and his alleged refusal to follow orders, according to Linville's Dayton personnel records.
Linville's Dayton police personnel records also show his supervisors believe he had addressed the issues that prompted his discipline.
In 2015, supervisors described him as a "good officer." Linville also received commendations for his police work, including his role in a heroin investigation and his leadership with the bicycle unit.
In December 2015, Linville resigned to join the Newport Police Department.
Linville resigned from the Newport PD in January 2019.
Linville and Newport city officials declined to explain why Linville left the department.
Two months later, Falmouth Police Chief Shannon Clem hired Linville as an officer.
It's not clear how much Clem knew about Linville's work history, but an article in the Falmouth Outlook newspaper mentions that Clem was aware of "the incident."
In June 2019, Linville helped save a 12-year-old boy from drowning in the Licking River.
The Falmouth Police Department presented Linville with an award for what Chief Clem described as Linville's heroism.
On August 29, 2019, one week before Linville's six-month probation period ended, Falmouth Mayor Ron Stinson fired him based on a recommendation by Clem with no further explanation, according to Linville's termination letter.
Linville, Stinson and Clem, who retired in April, did not respond to requests for comment.
In order to obtain Linville's complete work history as a police officer in Kentucky, the I-Team had to file eight open-records requests in writing and submit them to four police departments.
DeWine said those kind of challenges make it too difficult to keep track of an officer's employment history, especially when they keep moving from one department to another.
The latest research on "wandering officers"
A study published in the April 2020 edition of the Yale Law Journal, a Yale University publication focusing on legal research, identified so-called "wandering officers" – those who move from department to department – as a special risk for law enforcement agencies that hire them.
"When a police department hires an officer who has been previously fired, that officer is much more likely to be fired again," said Duke Professor Ben Grunwald, a co-author of the study that examined records documenting discipline and use-of-force incidents for 98,000 full-time officers in Florida.
The study identified about 1,100 Florida officers a year – about 1% of the total annual police workforce in the state – had been fired or resigned from their previous policing jobs.
Grunwald told the I-Team the study found officers who were fired from their last job generally had a hard time finding another job and they tend to be hired by small police departments with lower pay and expectations.
The I-Team's investigation in 2017 found many small local police departments have a history of hiring officers who had been fired or resigned following complaints about their conduct in uniform.
DeWine said the state oversight board he proposes would use the database of law enforcement records to help it decide if officers should lose their certifications.
But Grunwald isn't optimistic about full police department participation in that kind of a system.
"It's been really hard to get law enforcement agencies to contribute to these kinds of databases, specifically the decertification database that exists in most states," Grunwald said.
In Ohio, the state can't revoke an officer's certification unless the officer is convicted of certain crimes.
In Kentucky, state regulators have the authority to revoke an officer's certification for non-criminal misconduct.
Connecticut law prohibits law enforcement agencies in the state from hiring officers who have been "dismissed for malfeasance or other serious misconduct" or "resigned or retired" while "under investigation."
Grunwald calls the Connecticut law the "nuclear option."
DeWine said his reform plan depends on the support of state lawmakers who need to pass legislation that DeWine would then sign into law.
Grunwald and Stinson said national efforts at reform have failed to deliver transparency and accountability.
DeWine's plan also calls for requiring police departments to submit use-of-force reports so the state can track incidents.
The I-Team's investigation in 2018 found that each police department has its own use-of-force policy, and how it defines use of force and excessive force.
DeWine's plan calls for a standard statewide definition of use of force.
The governor believes if his plan becomes law it will make a difference.
"This system works in other professions," DeWine said. "There's no reason it cannot work in the police department."