New Miami police chief on leave

Village unable to get insurance coverage for police department

Kenneth Cheek, who took the position in 2010, was suspended with pay Thursday night following an executive session during a village council meeting, according to Jewel Collins, village administrative assistant.

His suspension comes just weeks after the village was dropped from its insurance and police were ordered to stay off the streets and not drive village-owned police cruisers as a result. Cheek had previously told the Journal-News that the village’s insurance plan had been cancelled as a result of excessive lawsuits and insurance claims.

Two of those lawsuits, both of which were just settled out of court within the last year, accused Cheek of unnecessarily choking one suspect and slamming another woman — one of Cheek’s relatives — to the ground. A civil suit in February also pulled the plug on the village’s controversial speed cameras.

Collins said minutes from the Thursday meeting where Cheek was suspended could not be released to the Journal-News Friday because they hadn’t been approved by Mayor Patti Hanes or the village’s fiscal officer.

Cheek, a resident of the village, did not return phone calls seeking comment. However, Cheek did tell the Journal-News via text message that “no one ever spoke to me prior to them making a resolution immediately after convening from executive session. I have never been given any form of written notice (nor) spoken to.”

Hanes refused to comment and referred the Journal-News to the village attorney and spokesman, Dennis Adams. Adams is out of the office and he did not respond to a message left for comment. None of the village’s council members returned phone calls for comment Friday.

Village officials met Thursday night during a regularly scheduled meeting to discuss a new insurance plan for the village. The village was approved for a plan to get new coverage Thursday — at a price tag of $41,000 — for every department except for the police department. Along with being dropped from its insurance plan last month, two insurers have denied even quoting coverage for the police department. Village officials have been unable to procure a policy willing to cover the police department.

“The elephant in the room is the police department,” Joseph Stewart, the president of Ohio Public Risks Insurance Agency Inc., said to the village council Thursday. He advised that insurance premiums covering the police agency would likely double, if they village is able to find an agency to cover the force.

Council members and village officials then began to debate if police crews should continue to patrol the streets while uninsured.

“In my personal opinion, I’m not an attorney, (but) I wouldn’t do it,” Stewart told the council.

Hanes said she was a “no” for putting the police crews back on the streets without insurance coverage, despite Cheek’s urging for approval. Hanes then told council members that she wanted to close the meeting to the public and go into executive session to further discuss the public safety issue.

Cheek said Thursday he was kicked out of the executive session, which lasted well over an hour.

The state’s open meetings law only allows government entities to close meetings when personnel matters, pending litigation, property sales, hospital trade secrets or security and emergency response protocols are being discussed, as well as issues that are required to be kept secret under state or federal law.

By the end of Thursday’s meeting Cheek — the police department’s only paid employee— was apparently suspended. The village also has 22 volunteer police officers.

New Miami’s police department has been no stranger to controversy in the past.

In August 2007, the council closed the police department during a time of political upheaval amid allegations of overspending. Two weeks later, the Butler County Sheriff’s Office struck a deal with the village, assigning an deputy to patrol 40 hours a week in exchange for equipment and access to the former police station.

That agreement ended in 2009, according to Chief Deputy Anthony Dwyer. In May 2010 the village voted to reinstate the department and named Cheek, who was a corrections officer for the sheriff’s office at the time, to the top spot.

But village council members defended the police department Thursday, calling it a vital operation for the village just hours before they voted to suspend their police chief.

Council members said during Thursday’s meeting that they were even willing to pay more in insurance premiums to keep the police force running. Several council members cited the village’s growing drug problem as a need to keep police patrolling the streets.

“I know the cost is going to double,” said council member Paul Stidham of the rising insurance costs for the police department. “But, they’re needed out there.”

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