October 30, 2014

Medina
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Brunswick Hills Police Department in turmoil

BRUNSWICK HILLS TWP. — A police officer and attorney hired to help Chief Sharon MacKay administer the Police Department resigned last week after he received no response to a letter he wrote to trustees detailing problems he said jeopardize the safety of the department and the community.

Trustee Michael Esber confirmed trustees did not respond to the letter, written by David Zelenka, who was hired June 26 and resigned Aug. 1.

Instead, Esber said, the trustees forwarded the letter, dated July 23, to MacKay for a response.

MacKay sent her 11-page response to The Gazette on Friday.

In her letter, MacKay called Zelenka’s allegations “inflammatory” and “based primarily on hearsay.”

“As Chief of Police with significant experience in law enforcement, including three (3) as Chief of BHPD, I can tell you there is no imminent or serious threat to the health and safety of the officers or residents of Brunswick Hills Township,” MacKay said in her letter.

MacKay did acknowledge several problems cited by Zelenka in his letter but said many of them had been or are being addressed.

David Zelenka, who is the brother of township Officer Derek Zelenka, declined to comment, except to say, “I resigned because I don’t think it’s a safe environment.”

The sergeants

MacKay said she has taken action concerning both of the department’s sergeants, Stephen Klopfenstein and Chris Kovach, who were singled out in Zelenka’s letter.

After investigating a reported sexual assault, MacKay said, Klopfenstein was reassigned to patrol and the detective duties for the department were given to Officer Timothy Sopkovich.

The move was not a demotion because Klopfenstein is still a sergeant, but he is no longer a detective.

In her response, MacKay said she made the change because she thought Sopkovich was the better detective. But she also cites “questionable” decisions by Klopfenstein during the investigation, including a delay to obtain a search warrant.

Additionally, she said, Klopfenstein was put in charge of organizing the department’s evidence room, which she said was in disarray when she became chief.

“While Sgt. Klopfenstein did not create the problem, he did little to resolve the problem,” MacKay acknowledged.

On June 14, she said, Klopfenstein was replaced by Sopkovich as “evidence custodian.”

Zelenka’s letter also cites concerns with Kovach, who MacKay said is about to return from an administrative leave.

Zelenka said Kovach “uses intimidation and manipulation to control officers” and has made comments about what he would do if the SWAT team ever came to his house.

MacKay said those comments were investigated and Kovach was placed on paid administrative leave until he was determined to be fit for duty. He could return to duty as soon as Sunday, she said via phone Friday night.

His behavior and management style are still in the works, she said, adding that he made other officers uncomfortable with sexual comments and actions.

“As far as using intimidation and manipulation to control officers, it could be argued that it is his management or leadership style,” MacKay said. “Although it is an unacceptable style for BHPD, it is not against criminal or labor law. In my opinion, it is an ineffective management style, and this style has created animosity in some of his subordinates and I have been addressing it with him.”

MacKay said that Kovach had also been removed from two SWAT teams, with the Medina County Sheriff’s Office and Brunswick.

She said the team leaders informed her Kovach had not attended required training sessions and had “lost the trust and respect of the other team members.”

K-9 unit

Another issue MacKay addressed in response to Zelenka’s letter is the department’s K-9 unit, which the township disbanded in March.

Zelenka said one of the dogs, which Officer Heather Stask owned and handled, bit a Brunswick police officer in February and Stask failed to report it.

A Brunswick city police report obtained by The Gazette documents the incident and details how the township’s dog bit the officer following a foot chase of a suspect.

MacKay acknowledges that Stask failed to report the incident and says she was “charged with violations” of the township and the department’s rules and regulations.

MacKay said Stask was suspended but has filed a grievance, which is still pending.

At the time, MacKay said she terminated the unit because it wasn’t effective enough for what it cost the township to run it.

A records request by The Gazette revealed the township kept statistics on the K-9 unit. But a second records request of Stask’s personnel file, as well as that of the two sergeants, found no performance evaluations have been done since 2007.

Documentation

In an interview Friday, MacKay confirmed that she has not done evaluations for either of her sergeants.

In 2009, she said, she had just started and didn’t feel she was in a position to evaluate the sergeants’ performance.

“In 2010 and 2011, I really don’t have a valid excuse,” MacKay said. “I was just getting to know the job and the township and the officers and whatnot.”

She said she does not know if the sergeants have evaluated the other officers, as they are required to do.

MacKay said she did not know why no evaluations were done in the two years before she took over the department from Robert Osiecki. Trustees fired Osiecki in 2009 after he refused to leave his home while intoxicated and threatened to commit suicide with a firearm.

MacKay said evaluations are on her to-do list, along with restructuring the department and improving record keeping.

“We’re working on correcting the problems that have existed in the department,” she said. “We’ve done a lot. We’ve done an awful lot.”

Esber said the trustees were waiting for MacKay’s response to decide how to respond to Zelenka’s letter.

Trustee Kathleen Scheutzow said Friday night that trustees received MacKay’s response but have not yet discussed it.

Contact Jennifer Pignolet at (330) 721-4063 or jpignolet@medina-gazette.com.