Friday, January 28, 2011

Shelby Co. Sheriff under fire, risks possible violation of 1st Amendment

By Mike Ullery

Chief Photographer

Shelby County has been a busy place for news lately. Unfortunately, most of the news is not of the “good” variety. One of the last things that citizens of any community want to experience is a lack of trust of their highest-ranking law enforcement officer.

Citizens of Shelby County are watching a drama unfold, one involving Dean Kimpel, their sheriff. Kimpel is under investigation for allegations of sexual assault made against him by a former law enforcement officer.

The situation has become bad enough that Kimpel’s own political party has asked that he resign.

This past week, Kimpel stepped things up a notch by filing a criminal complaint report against Kathy Leese, a freelance writer from the Sidney Daily News who has been investigating allegations against the sheriff.

Leese, like any good reporter, has been keeping abreast of the allegations against Kimpel. As more information emerges, Leese has contacted the sheriff, offering him the opportunity to respond. She has also asked questions of the sheriff.

The questions asked by Leese deserve answers. The sheriff is a public figure, elected by the citizens of Shelby County. These allegations are not going to just go away.

Kimpel has the same rights as every other citizen. He is innocent until proven guilty. He has the right to not incriminate himself. However, Kimpel is the sheriff of the community which elected him to the highest office in the county. He owes it to those citizens to be forthright.

However unfair it may be, public officials forfeit many of their rights the day they take out petitions to run for office. We hold public officials to a higher degree of accountability.

Leese’s job is to find the answers to questions and keep the public informed with accurate information. That is her job. That is her obligation to the citizens of her community.

In this case, her questions are aimed at the county sheriff. They are aimed that direction because the sheriff allegedly put himself into a compromising situation.

The fact that law enforcement officers wear a badge does not make them any less susceptible to temptation that any of the rest of us. Kimpel is no different, he is human. His job; however, requires that he behave in a manner which reflects the trust the citizens have placed in him.

Kimpel has now made the situation more volatile by alleging that a reporter, a person to whom guardianship of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution has been entrusted, has committed a criminal act, by doing her job. In doing so, Kimpel risks violating the First Amendment, not to mention, unjustifiably accusing a citizen of his community of a crime … just so that he doesn’t have to answer questions about his conduct.

One of my thoughts is that Kimpel’s actions could be construed as an attempt to blackmail a member of the media.

Dean Kimpel may be innocent of any wrongdoing. He may be guilty. At this point, we do not know. What we do know, is that Kimpel was elected by the citizens of Shelby County to hold the office of Sheriff. The person holding that office owes to his constituents that he keep them informed of incidents which affect them. That includes incidents in which the sheriff may, personally, be involved.That is his job.

What Kimpel may not realize is that members of the media take very seriously their obligation to keep the public informed of newsworthy events. That allegations of unethical or criminal behavior have been made against the sheriff of Shelby County is a very newsworthy event. Kimpel may choose to attempt to silence a reporter by alleging criminal acts, but, in doing so, he has done nothing more than unlock the door and invite more media scrutiny.

The worst of it is that his actions further erode the confidence of the citizens of Shelby County in their sheriff’s office. Kimpel’s actions reflect on his entire staff. That is sad, for they are not the ones who deserve the scrutiny and criticism.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Americans are family ...or, "Don't tread on him, he's my brother."

Another  tragedy fell upon Americans on Saturday. United States Representative Gabrielle Giffords, a Democrat from Arizona was critically wounded when ambushed by a gunman. Several others, including one of her aides and a judge were killed.

Saturday's tragedy reminds me that, in spite of ourselves, we Americans are family.

Sure, we fight and argue amongst ourselves. Each of us have our own opinions on the best way to get a job done. Some of us believe in government-run health care. Others believe it should remain in the private sector.

The list of our differences goes back to the signing of the Declaration of Independence. We disagree on things. We talk about it ...okay, sometimes quite heatedly. We compromise. We go on.

There is a common denominator, though, in every action that takes place. Each of us, is a family member. Each of us is an American. Just like brothers and sisters who may fight among themselves but will fight to the death to protect each other from harm caused by others, Americans are allowed to argue amongst ourselves ... but Heaven help anyone who attempts to hurt a fellow American.

When someone attacks one American, they attack every American. When someone attacks one American, they can expect retaliation by all Americans.

History proves that when a country, or an individual targets a single American, they don't have to worry about Democrats, or Republicans. They have incurred the wrath of an entire nation.

Following Japan's attack on Pearl Harbor in December of 1941, Japanese Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto confided, in spite of Japan's great victory against the United States, "I fear all we have done is to awaken a sleeping giant and fill him with a terrible resolve." Yamamoto had lived in the United States. He knew, not only America's industrial might in the 40's, but also, the single-minded resolve of Americans united for a just cause.

So now, a cowardly slime ball named Jared Loughner, with possible help from some other low-life cowards have perpetrated an attack against America and Americans.

It is time for Americans to come together on another decision. Terrorists, foreign or domestic, should not be included among those who deserve protection of any kind under American laws. If guilty of a terrorist act against our country ... they die. No drawn out trials. Just a no-fanfare-that-could-make-them-a-martyr bullet in the ear.

It is time to let the world know that America means business. Some may argue that the approach is inhumane. War is inhumane. The fight is for survival. Only the strongest survive. That is nature's way.

Monday, January 3, 2011

For law enforcement officers, there is no such thing as a routine call

Ringing in the New Year is supposed to be a time of joy and celebration. Mere hours into the new year, 2011 took a tragic turn.

A Clark County Sheriff’s deputy, 40-year-old, Suzanne Waughtel-Hopper, died in the line of duty, at the hand of a coward. The veteran deputy and mother of two children was ambushed outside a trailer and killed by a shotgun blast.

Minutes later, another officer, Jeremy Blum of the German Township Police Department was wounded as he, and other officers were forced into a shootout with the suspect, Michael L Ferryman. 

One thing can be learned from this tragedy. Police officers are told from the time they enter the profession, “there is no such thing as a routine call.”

A large number of officers who have given their lives, over the years, have died while on a "routine call" or making a "routine traffic stop."

I have heard and watched many times over the years as people would scoff when a police officer approached a building or a vehicle with his hand on, or near, his gun. Comments range from questioning the officer’s fortitude to remarks about the officer thinking he, or she, is a Matt Dillon or Dirty Harry.

The horrible events of last Saturday paint a clear picture of the dangers faced every time a police officer responds to a call.

There are many things still to be sorted out about the call that ended Deputy Waughtel-Hopper’s life. Yes, the call was shots fired. At this time, we are told that it was believed the suspect had left the area and Waughtel-Hopper was engaged in taking photographs when she was ambushed.

For whatever reason, Waughtel-Hopper may have been caught off-guard. I have seen circumstances that a police officer might face, that would be difficult to survive even if on high alert. Law enforcement officers knowingly enter those conditions as a matter of routine. 

No one is second-guessing Waughtel-Hopper’s actions. I am sure that they will be given a microscopic look in order to potentially save the life of fellow officers so that they might not be caught during future encounters.

What is important for all of us to recognize is that events such as those that took the life of Deputy Waughtel-Hopper should be in the back of the mind of every law enforcement officer, every time he, or she, responds to a call. 

Thankfully, most of the time that an officer responds to a call, it is resolved without, or with minimal, use of force to control the situation. 

I believe that part of the reason for complacency on our part is a general thought that, “we don’t live in New York or Detroit … or Dayton.” 

Hence, when we see a law enforcement officer approaching a vehicle or building, gun in hand, many choose to think, “Why? That sort of thing never happens here.” 

Our local police officers and sheriff’s deputies respond to “shots fired” calls more often that most would believe. More often than not, the “shots” were fireworks, or a car backfiring. Sometimes, especially in rural areas, it is someone firing a gun, but usually for hunting or target practice. 

It is easy to see how, after dozens, even hundreds, of calls that end with no serious crime, an officer could become just a little too relaxed. 

The events of January 1, 2011 at Enon Beach were a harsh lesson that, yes, it can happen here.

I sincerely hope that the tragic death of Deputy Waughtel-Hopper will serve as a reminder to all members of our law enforcement community that there truly is no such thing as a routine call.

I also hope that every time that each of us sees a law enforcement officer doing their job, we remember that they are, indeed, the thin blue line that stands between us and the evil part of our society.

Deputy Suzanne Waughtel-Hopper, may you rest in peace.
Officer Jeremy Blum, we wish you a speedy recovery.