By Jeff Gallatin
Municipal and police union officials are preparing for a legal battle as a result of North Olmsted’s recent firing of two veteran police officers.
City Council approved at its Dec. 2 meeting seeking requests for hiring outside legal counsel to represent the city in legal proceedings involving the firings of Patrolman Christopher Fox, who was fired Nov. 21, and Patrolman Brian Bielozer, who was fired Nov. 27.
Officials said the move to seek outside legal counsel was necessary because of potential conflicts of interest for the city. Both officers have filed grievances seeking reinstatement under the collective bargaining agreement between the city and the Fraternal Order of Police. In addition, one case also involves North Olmsted civil service laws. City law Director Michael Gareau Jr. provides advice to the North Olmsted Civil Service Commission. Normally, he would be providing advice to the city administration as well, but since it has interests that could be divergent to the commission, the administration asked council to approve seeking outside legal counsel. In addition, Fox, who has been with the department since 1990, is a neighbor of Gareau, as well as Mayor Kevin Kennedy. Bielozer also has been with the department since 1998.
Council approved the measure after a half-hour executive session to discuss personnel discipline at the start of the council meeting.
Officials said the firings were the result of internal investigations, but did not offer specifics. West Life has requested the officers’ personnel files (see related story this page). In addition, Fox is facing misdemeanor charges in municipal court stemming from allegations of allowing underage people to have alcohol at a New Year’s Eve party last year. A special prosecutor is handling that case. Officials said those charges are separate from the firing.
Bill Saringer, who is a union representative for North Olmsted patrol officers represented by the Fraternal Order of Police, said both Fox and Bielozer filed grievances over their firings by the city.
“They will get representation from the Fraternal Order of Police, as is their right,” Saringer said.
As part of the process, their grievances would be heard by Kennedy, who as mayor is head of the safety division.
Kennedy released a statement about the firings later in the week.
“While it’s always disappointing to lose officers, it is important for the residents of North Olmsted to know that this administration adheres to a very high standard for their safety forces,” Kennedy said in the statement. “Our residents expect and deserve the highest quality of safety personnel. That has been the goal at the start of my administration and will continue throughout.”
Police Chief Jamie Gallagher declined comment citing the ongoing nature of the grievances and legal proceedings.
Neither Bielozer nor Fox could be reached for comment.
Gareau said the city should be able to review proposals and reach a decision on hiring outside counsel within about two weeks.
Personnel files show series of incidents led to firings
A review of personnel files for two veteran North Olmsted police officers recently fired by the city reveals allegations by city and department officials from a series of incidents that took place over several years.
Patrolman Brian Bielozer, who joined the department in 1998, was fired Nov. 27 based on allegations of incompetence, neglect of duty, violation of rules, breaking the law enforcement code of ethics, truthfulness, integrity, insubordination, conduct unbecoming an officer, not complying with an order and neglecting the duties of a patrol officer.
Patrolman Chris Fox, who joined the department in 1990, was fired Nov. 21 for alleged violations of department policy pertaining to sick leave and a pattern of abuse of the policy.
Both officers have appealed their firings through the contract the city and Fraternal Order of Police negotiated for patrol officers. City Council has approved hiring outside legal counsel to represent the city in the legal proceedings to avoid any potential conflict of interest. Neither officer could be reached for comment by West Life.
In Bielozer’s case, his termination letter from safety/service Director Scott Thomas refers to three separate internal department investigations. Thomas also notes a Nov. 25 disciplinary hearing in the presence of Bielozer and a Fraternal Order of Police representative and many other incidents.
The file contains one report and reprimand on an incident in which Bielozer drove his police cruiser head-on at a wrong-way driver, noting department policy is that pursuits are justified only when the officer knows or has reasonable grounds to believe a suspect has committed or attempted to commit a felony.
“By driving head-on toward a wrong-way driver, when the reason given for the pursuit by North Ridgeville P.D. was for a traffic offense, Officer Bielozer placed himself in a dangerous situation that outweighed the need to immediately apprehend the suspect. There is no reasonable expectation of a positive outcome to be gained by driving directly at an oncoming suspect on a limited-access highway.”
It also details incidents in which department officials said Bielozer involved himself in an investigation on a relative after receiving orders not to, accessed a department computer illegally and left his assigned post during a SWAT incident.
The report indicates several times Bielozer’s willingness to assist fellow officers when needed, but frequently notes this along with references to a need to correct reports and make sure needed information is provided.
“After one hundred and twenty days of suspension, written reprimands, shift counseling, referral to other services and a major lawsuit filed and settled against you for use of force, you have failed to modify your behavior and still continue to act outside the rules of a police officer for the city of North Olmsted,” Thomas noted in upholding the decision to fire Bielozer.
In Fox’s case, Thomas’ termination letter details a series of incidents from 1998, 2001, 2003, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2010, 2011 and 2012, as well as referring to additional call-offs by Fox in 2013.
“During your 23 years of employment with the North Olmsted Police Department you have continued to show a pattern of sick leave usage in conjunction with your days off, paid holidays, vacations and weekends,” Thomas noted in his letter upholding Fox’s firing.