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Can't we all just get along?

Norwalk Reflector Staff • May 1, 2014 at 10:57 PM

The rift between the Norwalk Police Department and the Huron County Sheriff's Office is out in the open.

Recent comments by police Chief Dave Light indicate there are problems. And a prepared statement from Sheriff Dane Howard confirms there is no love lost between the two agencies.

The most recent problems stem back to a March 25 drug raid on Benedict Avenue in Norwalk.

Claims have been made sheriff's deputies hit the wrong residence, something Howard has denied. The Norwalk police didn't participate in the raid and Light has pointed that out on more than one occasion, trying to distance his department from the situation.

Howard told the Reflector on Monday a special investigator with the Holmes County Sheriff's Office "has found no wrongdoing on the parts of the detectives." In fact, Howard said there was no phone conversation between "my detectives and police personnel about a bad search warrant" -- as alleged in a recent media report -- before the Benedict Avenue incident.

"I have released copies of the text messages of Detective (Kayla) Zander's cell phone. The text messages clearly show that detectives with the Norwalk Police Department took part in that warrant that day," Howard said. (NOTE: The complete text correspondence between Zander and police Detective Sgt. Jim Fulton appears in a separate story on this website.)

On April 9, a woman backed into a Norwalk detective's car. The woman, who was charged with driving without a license, later filed a criminal complaint against a pair of police detectives, alleging menacing and unlawful restraint. The case has been sent to the Huron County Prosecutor's Office for the consideration of charges.

"We received a complaint and forwarded it to the prosecutor's office to recommend if they wanted to get a special investigator," Chief Deputy Ted Patrick said.

No decision has been made by the prosecutor's office.

Sheriff's detective Eric Bardar investigated the accident.

"I think this is just a huge pay back and deflection, trying to take attention away from them," Light said about the sheriff's office. "Eric Bardar, with his lack of knowledge of the law, is going to run along with her (the driver) trying to deflect the attention to the Norwalk Police Department."

Light also questions deputies' tactics, training and knowledge of the law. He cited one raid on Henry Street in which a woman -- who had undergone a hysterectomy the previous day -- was sitting on the toilet naked when deputies burst into the bathroom, "pointing a gun at her head." The woman's daughter was arrested after pills were found in the residence.

Howard addressed many of those claims in this prepared statement:

"In regard to the search warrant on Benedict Avenue, an independent investigation by an outside agency was conducted at my request, and it's absolutely clear that my detectives were well within the boundaries of the law and their actions were appropriate," Howard said. "We have received an oral report from the investigator, while the final written report should be available at the end of this week.

"In a meeting late last year with the police chief (Light), he did ask me to order my deputies and detectives to not conduct investigations in the city of Norwalk. This is an unreasonable and immoral request on his part. The chief is asking my deputies to be derelict in their duties and violate their oath of office.

"We live in an age of a heroin epidemic, whereas the heroin trafficker and heroin abuser have no jurisdictional boundaries. The deputies here are very well trained and I have high expectations for them. Their orders are to seek out the felony drug violator and complete the investigation and, if appropriate, make the arrest," Howard said.

"Over the last five and one-half years, this office has received numerous complaints from citizens, many of which are anonymous, of drug activity in the city of Norwalk that the citizen has reported to the detectives of the Norwalk Police Department with no results. Just since October of 2011, the detectives with the Huron County Sheriff's Office have conducted over 75 felony drug investigations within the city of Norwalk and many more outside the city. The belief here is that if we aggressively investigate the heroin-based crimes, that it will be a deterrent on other related crimes, such as larceny, breaking and entering and burglaries. Many of these felony drug abuse offenders travel from the city into the townships and commit these crimes. Clearly our tactics are working, indicated by the reduction in burglaries in the townships.

"We have tried through the years to work very hard with the Norwalk Police Department, and in most cases successfully. We will make every effort, along with my clear orders that we will assist the Norwalk Police Department wherever and whenever they need us, because that is exactly what the citizens want and deserve from us.

"We need to stay focused on providing a service to the citizens of Huron County and not get involved in petty, prideful bickering.

"The Huron County Sheriff's Office will work very hard to mend the differences between the agencies, but not at the expense of enforcing the law equally and fairly. The issue here is not whether or not my men and women acted correctly during the execution of (a) warrant, because the evidence clearly proves that they did. The issue is that the chief does not want us conducting heroin-based investigations in the city of Norwalk. The men and women of the Huron County Sheriff's Office are charged with enforcing the laws in all 500 square miles of this county. The deputies are paid to make a difference, not make excuses.

"There are many great men and women at the Norwalk Police Department, as well as the Huron County Sheriff's Office, and in time, these wounds will heal. My last thought is shame on him for these tasteless tactics and for putting his territorial-based pride over the safety of the citizens," Howard said.

Patrick, Howard's chief deputy and spokesman, said Monday the sheriff's office will continue to respond to drug-related complaints from citizens who live in the city of Norwalk -- despite what Norwalk police want or say about jurisdictional issues.

"The only way they're going to be happy is if we stay out of the city and don't investigate the drug complaints. Norwalk is in Huron County. When the citizens file a complaint, we respond to the complaint," Patrick said.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Reflector staff writer Cary Ashby, news editor Matt Roche and managing editor Joe Centers contributed to this story.

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