Sunday, April 26, 2009
SHOULD SHERIFF SWANSON AND PROSECUTOR FERRERO BE TAKING A NEW LOOK AT HOW POLITICALLY SENSITIVE LAW ENFORCEMENT MATTERS ARE HANDLED IN STARK?
Recently Stark County Sheriff Tim Swanson's office has been involved in three high profile investigations in which the subjects involve political factors.
First, in late 2008, it was the anonymous allegations that Canton Mayor William J. Healy, II had been involved in an inappropriate relationship with a 15/16 year old. Swanson investigated and in collaboration with Stark County Prosecutor John Ferrero's office determined that there would be no charges filed against Healy. And then Swanson obtained a legal opinion that the media and public would not have access to the file.
Second, in two Marlboro Township trustees asked Swanson's office to investigate whether or not Marlboro Township police chief Ron Devies and his son Kyle did anything to "criminally" alter township computers. The investigation led to Stark County Prosecutor John Ferrero to seat a grand jury which resulted in each of the Devies being indicted for fourth degree felonies.
Third, Treasurer Gary Zeigler (Stark County) in March fired Stark Countian and chief deputy Vince Frustaci accusing Frustaci of stealing county money. Swanson was in the thick of investigative efforts but later announced he was receding to the background.
By the time we get to treasurer's office matter, maybe just maybe, Sheriff Swanson is learning that he is a political figure in Stark County who is a Democrat in which all the elected countywide offices (non-judicial) are Democrats. And through in heavily Democratic Canton and Massillon.
Well, the sheriff is known to be a solid, loyal Democrat who supports many, many locally well known Democrat office holders. He contributes to many of their campaigns and vice-a-versa.
Well, when these political colleagues are subject to criminal investigation, is it in the interest of the impartial administration of justice for Swanson to be leading the investigation?
Moreover, when subjects are the political adversaries of the sheriff (e.g. Ron Devies was a strong supporter of Swanson's last opponent - Republican Dordea), is it in the interest of the impartial administration of justice for Swanson to be leading the investigation?
The Report thinks not.
By the time we get to the Frustaci matter (which occurred soon after Swanson had written a letter to the editor of The Repository supporting the way Zeigler runs his office), apparently the sheriff himself agrees or does he? (Swanson self-describes as being in the background)
It would be easy enough for Sheriff Swanson, and by the way, Prosecutor Ferrero, to recuse themselves from the investigations of high profile cases involving political figures or dynamics and bring in outside law enforcement officials.
Why bring this up now?
Because there is a political fight between Mayor Healy and Canton Councilman Greg Hawk underway which may have law enforcement implications. Healy is trying through others to get Sheriff Swanson's office involved.
Swanson shouldn't bite. If an investigation is merited, it should be done by Republican law enforcement officials from out of county.
The Report does not say that Swanson or Ferrero have let political bias affect any of their work.
But when you have political elements lurking around a law enforcement situation, isn't is best for all including the Stark County system of justice "to avoid the very appearance" that political relationships might be perceived by the public at large to be at play?