Chesapeake police chief resigns

Published 10:58 am Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Cites disagreements with mayor in letter

CHESAPEAKE — Chesapeake’s police chief resigned from his position Tuesday, leaving the village’s police force without a head for the second time this year.

Lenny Abrams, who was sworn into the position at the council’s June meeting, said that the mayor accepted his resignation Tuesday afternoon and that two officers, Amanda Webb and Kim Bennett, who had recently joined the force, would be turning in their resignations on Wednesday.

Abrams, who still works full-time on South Point’s police force, took the position as chief in Chesapeake after his predecessor, Dennis Gibson, was removed from the position by council at an April 12 administrative hearing.

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“To the community, I am sorry that I have let you down,” Abrams said on the department’s Facebook page following the meeting. “You deserve better representation and protection. I preached it during my time here that my door is always open, and that will remain the case. I have grown to know many of you and I am now happy to call you my friends. I wish each of you well.”

As of press time, the page, listed as “Chief Lenny Abrams,” was still active, but had a post indicating it would soon be deleted.

Abrams outlined his reasons for resigning in a letter addressed to council, a copy of which was provided to The Tribune following the meeting.

In the letter, Abrams cited numerous disagreements with Templeton and made several allegations regarding the mayor’s conduct.

At the heart of the disagreements was the issue of a Chesapeake sober living house run by Riverside Recovery Services, a drug and alcohol counseling program based in Lawrence County.

The issue of the house, which opened on June 22 at 421 Riverside Drive, has been a contentious topic at council meetings since it was announced, with Templeton repeatedly stating his opposition to the home’s location in the village and criticizing Riverside director Amy Smart and staff.

In his letter, Abrams described Templeton as having “a grudge” with Riverside’s staff, specifically over a donation the group made toward buying bulletproof vests for the police department, which Abrams said Templeton would not accept. The funds were raised from a car show at a drug awareness event organized by Riverside.

“The director of Riverside reached out to me and advised me that the agency wanted to donate the proceeds of the car show to the department to assist in getting equipment,” Abrams said in his letter to council. “I was quickly shot down when mentioning this to the mayor. The decision dumbfounded me as he is allowing a personal grudge against a business to dictate his decisions about this donation and the donation for vests and places my officer’s lives in danger.”

The police department recently partnered with Riverside for a Ribbons for Recovery Resource Fair at Chesapeake Community Park. Abrams had also visited the sober living home, in what he said was an effort to ease the tensions over its operation.

At an Aug. 2 council meeting, Abrams said that he was now a part of the intake process at the home and was given the option to say no to any prospective resident he found an issue with. He said he had been provided with a list of all residents at the home, staff contacts, a floor plan and was given consent for random searches with a K-9 unit. Abrams told the council that he was “impressed” with the home’s policies.

Templeton was not present for the Aug. 2 meeting, which was run by council member and Mayor Pro Tempore Paul Hart.

“At the conclusion of the meeting I was pleased knowing that they were cooperating and willing to assist in the community in any way possible, but most of all I was relieved, like others when I found that no violent offenders or sex offenders would be placed there nor would drugs be dispensed at that location,” Abrams said in his letter to council. “Since their opening there has been no incidents near the home. I presented this information to council in the August meeting lead by council member Hart. To me the issue was to rest, or so I thought.”

In his letter, Abrams also alleged that Templeton had “instructed” a Chesapeake resident to protest the home. Abrams said the individual was taking photographs of the staff and the home.

“Several days later the same individual returned and was protesting by sitting in the street,” Abrams said in his letter. “He was advised he had the legal right to protest but cannot impede traffic and to move to the side of the roadway, he again said call the mayor he knows I am here and will probably join me.”

Abrams also stated in his letter that a complaint was filed alleging Templeton had, in the late evening hours, “sat in wait” to follow a female staff member of Riverside to her home.

Another allegation made by Abrams involved an incident, which he said took place on Aug. 20.

“A complaint was made to the department regarding a person impersonating an officer,” Abrams stated in his letter to council. “An officer was dispatched and a report taken. Through the investigation it was determined that Mayor Templeton had observed a vehicle run stop signs and stop along the curb near Riverside. Templeton exited his vehicle approached the driver and displayed a badge.”

Abrams said a verbal altercation took place and that Templeton left, texting him about the incident later.

“That report was taken to the prosecutor’s office for review for possible charges,“ Abrams said in his letter.

Abrams said a meeting between police and the mayor was held on Aug. 30 to resolve differences and that the issue of the Riverside home was raised, along with what he said was the “issue involving the mayor displaying a badge and assuming a ‘peace officer’ role.”

Abrams said it became clear to him in the meeting that the issues would not be resolved, and said Templeton cited that he was allowed to do so by “attorney general opinion 2001-026 and confirmed by village solicitor.”

“I am not disputing the fact that a mayor has certain powers established by ORC,” Abrams said in his letter. “I am disputing his interpretation of those laws and the extent he should carry them out as it is a severe liability for myself and the village.”

Smart told The Tribune following Tuesday’s meeting that she is consulting an attorney regarding the police report involving Templeton.

“He may be allowed to pull people over, but he can not cuss my staff and threaten them, she said. “No ‘officer’ of law is allowed to do that.”

In addition to the issues involving Riverside, Abrams cited additional disagreements with Templeton.

On the subject of ticket quota, Abrams alleged that Templeton had “verbally reprimanded every member of this department for not writing enough citations to cover costs.”

“This is a practice that is not only illegal but one that I am morally and ethically against,” Abrams stated in his letter. “Citations are there for traffic safety and should not be considered a source for generating revenue.”

Lastly, in his letter, Abrams cited a disagreement over the mayor’s conduct regarding a traffic stop and drug seizure.

“Last month an officer conducted a traffic stop resulting in cash and drugs being seized, Abrams stated in his letter. “It was suspected to contain more narcotics and the vehicle was ordered towed to the police department and sealed until a search warrant was obtained.”

Abrams stated that, upon arriving for duty following Monday, he observed that the vehicle was missing.

“I notified the sheriff’s office and they investigated and discovered that the tow company had removed the vehicle from the lot at the direction of mayor Templeton,” Abrams said in his letter. “This resulted in a report being filed and that report sent to the prosecutor’s office for charges of tampering with evidence, a felony.”

Abrams then stated that an exchange of words had taken place between he and Templeton in the fiscal officers office. He said the mayor had requested his resignation at the time.

Issues regarding the police department have come up at a council meeting since Abrams became chief.

At the Aug. 3 meeting run by Hart, the council met in executive session to discuss an unspecified matter involving the police department, with no action taken and Hart stating things had “been resolved.”

On Wednesday, Hart said he was “shocked” at Abrams’ resignation. He said he had not seen or been given the letter addressed to council, and said Abrams had posted his reasons for leaving primarily on Facebook.

Abrams posted a similar account, detailing his issues with Templeton on his personal Facebook page.

Hart took issue with the social media postings, and said that differences should be presented in person.

He said a number of people came to the council meeting, wanting to discuss the resignation, but were told by the mayor that personnel issues would not be discussed at the meeting.

Abrams told The Tribune that, with his resignation and the impending resignations of Webb and Bennett, the village’s police department would be left with only one officer, Aaron Christian.

The council accepted Abrams’ resignation, following an executive session called for by the mayor at Tuesday night’s meeting. Abrams said he was not invited to take part in the session.

Abrams took the position as Chesapeake’s police chief, following the removal of Gibson in April. At a four-hour meeting of council that served as an administrative hearing, the council voted 5-1 to remove Gibson after Templeton charged him with dishonesty in office, malfeasance in office, insubordination and neglect of duty.

The next meeting of Chesapeake’s council is set for Oct. 3.

Efforts by The Tribune to reach Templeton for comment on Tuesday were unsuccessful.