Halfway through his second beer, Cleveland police officer Steve Kinas gets philosophical. “Everyone, they have their own personal truths, what is true to them, what happened that night. But I believe there is only one absolute truth. Everything else is perception,” he says.
Kinas is a big dude — all-around huge at 6’ 4”, 350 pounds. Since he was a kid, people have told him he looks a little like those Easter Island statues. He’s Vice President of the Cleveland Police Patrolman’s Association, a Boy Scout, a supercop. Did I mention he’s a mixed martial arts coach? Because he’s a mixed martial arts coach. The beer bottle looks comically small in his grip. He takes a sip, shakes his head.
What you know about the night Kinas arrested Rover, Cleveland’s most popular morning “shock jock” (and ClearChannel’s million-dollar money mint), has likely come from the Plain Dealer’s coverage of the indictment and some assorted blips on the local TV news. Here’s the gist:
On the night of the Fourth of July, Rover (real name: Shane French) and his friend Michael Toomey (aka “Chocolate Charlie”) got into an argument with off-duty Cleveland cop, Steve Kinas. “Verbal judo,” as Kinas calls it. It was 3:30 in the morning and French & Co. were shooting fireworks into the lake. Kinas told them to stop. French said no. Things escalated quickly.
This was at the Olde River Yacht club on Whiskey Island, once a prohibition booze-shuttle relay between Ohio and Canada, now the last bastion of showy wealth for Cleveland’s one-percenters. French parks his yacht there. Kinas has a boat too. It sits in the harbor of another club.
According to police reports, it was French that initiated the fight. French charged Kinas. Kinas then called into 2nd District dispatch. The police descended on the marina and French and Toomey spent the night in city jail.
French and Toomey were charged with multiple misdemeanors and felonies, including felonious assault, inducing panic, criminal damaging, and resisting arrest. They face up to eight years in prison. A trial is set for May 20.
If you’ve lived in Cleveland for a spell, you’ve heard Rover on the radio during the morning commute. Even if you don’t like him, you know him. Everybody knows him. And if you’ve listened to Rover’s Morning Glory religiously, you know that Rover can be a bit of a hot head. That’s his job, after all. He gets paid (millions, Kinas believes) to stir up controversy and provoke discussion.
But so far, little is known about the other party in this courtroom tango. Nobody knows Steve Kinas. Until now.
Kinas comes from a hard-working family of hardened Eastern European stock. His father was a machinist, liked boats. His parents have been together forever. When Kinas got hitched, he planned to married for life, just like his folks. That’s not how things shook out.
Mutual friends introduced Kinas to Audrie. Their courtship was brief: two months. As soon as they were official, Kinas laid down the rules. According to her court testimony during their eventual divorce, Audrie says she was told to give him all her paychecks (she worked at a hair salon and then a doctor’s office). Kinas would then give her an allowance. She had a strict curfew. Eventually, Kinas grew annoyed with the amount of time she worked at the OBGYN. One day, he arrived at the doctor’s office with a two-week notice he’d written himself and demanded Audrie give it to her boss. She did. He tracked her cell phone, she believed, to keep tabs on her location at all time.
Audrie came to believe that Kinas was a compulsive liar. She lost the ability to trust what he was telling her about his day-to-day activities and their finances. “After a couple years, I really noticed that Steve would just lie,” she explained, in court. “Just things that he would say and exaggerate and I didn’t know that in the beginning.”
On October 7, 2010, Audrie left him. They have two kids, a boy and a girl. She took them with her. She left because he assaulted her, she says.
There are details from that October night in the court transcripts from their contentious divorce. What’s not in there is spelled out in a report from the IA bureau — that’s Internal Affairs, cops who investigate cops. Audrie says Kinas grew angry with her, inside their home off the Jennings freeway. “He grabbed me by the neck and shoved me against the wall and he continued to push me. He just kept pushing me. I was in shock,” she says in the IA report.
According to her interview for that report, once he got her in the bedroom, Kinas forced her to perform oral sex. She said, ‘no.’ He persisted. “And he got real upset and he was like, why would this be degrading? You are my wife.’”
It wasn’t the first time he’d forced her to have sex, she claimed. “Two days prior to that, Steve raped me,” Audrie explained to IA. It was two in the morning. He’d just come home from work. Asked for sex. She said no. “I said, ‘I’m tired.’ He was mad. He ripped off my pajamas.” She couldn’t stop him. He was twice her size. Three times her weight. She could only look at him. “When Steve gets enraged he just looks like a different person. He looks like a demon. His eyes look different.”
As a cop who sometimes worked rape cases, Kinas had developed his own theories about rape victims, which he shared with Audrie. He repeated these feelings in court, later. These are Kinas’ exact words: “My opinion is that when we are in court it’s worse, when the women relive the experience in front of everybody, than the event.” Better to stay quiet than to be forced to relive the rape in front of a jury.
Kinas was charged with domestic violence for the October incident and Audrie was granted a restraining order. He admits to being “aggressive” but says there was never a rape, never a punch. “I did push her,” he says now. “I pushed her all the way into the bedroom so the kids couldn’t hear us arguing.”
Kinas’ son told a neighbor that he’d heard his mother say, “Steve stop. No, you’re hurting me.” The boy listened to the sounds and his mother saying “ouch.” The younger girl saw enough, too. “Mommy and Daddy were wrestling,” she said. The neighbor who reported the children’s statements to IA investigators, Elberth Eggelmeyer, was a Cleveland police officer too.
IA also interviewed Kinas’s partner, Thomas Ross, who, in remarkable understatement, admitted, “Maybe Steven needs some social skills.” IA officers were alarmed to find Ross parked outside the hospital where Audrie had sought treatment after the assault. When IA approached him, he didn’t have a reason to be there and told them he had no idea where Kinas might be.
The divorce court appointed a guardian ad litem to protect the interest of the kids, a woman named Sheila Duffy. Part of any guardian ad litem’s job is to watch the children interact with each parent and then make recommendations to the judge for custody. Initially, Duffy recommended shared parenting. But Audrie didn’t want the kids to see Kinas, ever. She felt they were in danger when they were with him. She talked about how Kinas, when angry, would drive in excess of 100 miles-an-hour on the Jennings with the kids in the car and how, one Christmas, he erupted when their son stuck his finger in the cookie frosting. “He said, ‘I want to beat the shit out of you.’” She also said Kinas had forty guns in the house.
The magistrate asked Duffy whom she recommended as primary caregiver. Duffy recommended Kinas. When reached by phone, Duffy explains her reasoning. “I didn’t believe her. You had to be there. I just didn’t believe her. She’s nuts. Her lawyers were crazy, too.”
She means the Staffords, Joseph and Vincent, brothers who were once known as Cleveland’s most aggressive and divorce attorneys. Joseph was Audrie’s attorney until he was suspended by the Ohio Supreme Court. Then Gregory Moore stepped in. Moore is in trouble for allegedly calling in bomb threats to the courthouse. Last year, another client of Moore’s, Aliza Sherman, was stabbed to death in front of his office. The day Audrie’s case went before an adjudicator, Moore claimed he couldn’t make it in for trial because he was in the E.R. Attorney Anne Fantelli was forced to represent Audrie that day, with zero preparation.
Duffy says Audrie’s testimony to the IA about the assault was unsubstantiated. However, on cross examination, Duffy admitted she’d never even read the IA report or their interviews with the children. Kinas was awarded full custody.
As far as the criminal charges against Kinas, he got lucky there, too. At the muni courthouse, each time Audrie appeared in court, she had to face thirty men in uniform, friends of Kinas, members of the police union. “They had no reason to be there, other than to intimidate me,” she said. She told the prosecutor to cut a deal to be done with it. Kinas pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct and served a ten-day suspension.
By this time, Kinas had risen in the ranks inside the Cleveland Police Department. He’d run for a position with the Cleveland Police Patrolman’s Association, the powerful union that represents police throughout Greater Cleveland. Today, he’s vice president of the CPPA. He was also the co-owner of a “scheduling” company called Watchmen. He and his old partner, Tom Ross, started it. Watchmen assigns Cleveland police officers to security gigs on their time off. The officers work security in full uniform and are paid $26 an hour. For every hour booked, Kinas gets fifty cents, he says (though no mention of this financial arrangement appeared in financials during the divorce, when Kinas claimed he barely had two nickels to scrape together).
Being an executive officer in the police union is one thing. Being the guy who assigns cushy security gigs that pay more than regular work, well that’s real power.
Long story short: Kinas has a lot of friends. Not the least of which is the current union chief, Jeffrey Follmer. “He’s a good father,” says Follmer. “I think if Rover would have stopped Steve wouldn’t have gone over there. Steve doesn’t go looking for fights.”
The IA investigation of Kinas’ assault is no longer in his official personnel file, incidentally.
Of course, we all know that every contested divorce is a he said/she said. People exaggerate. But the way Kinas assaulted Audrie was allegedly similar to the way he reportedly attacked a nightclub owner named Velimir Lucic a year before. At the time, Lucic owned Scripts nightclub, an “urban” dance club known for its twerking contests.
One night while he was working security at the club, Kinas got into an argument with Lucic, who is nearly as big as him. A video shows Kinas grabbing Lucic by the neck in the exact manner Audrie claimed he strangled her.
Kinas claimed it wasn’t what it looked like. “I was trying to effect the arrest by using touch pressure points.”
As to what started the fight between longtime friends (Lucic and his wife sometimes had dinner with Audrie and Kinas), Kinas will only say it involved Old World political disputes between Serbs and Croatians. Things got hot and, as Kinas says, “I’m not the type of guy who backs down.”
He doesn’t back down even when it’s another cop. He and officer David Alderman got into it at the union hall one night, after some drinks. Scuttlebutt says there was a fight. At first, Kinas denies this. “We had words only,” he says. Later, he amends this statement. “I did grab him. Just grabbed him and told him it was time to go.” Alderman did not respond to requests for comment.
And then there’s the time Kinas broke another cop’s jaw. Kinas and officer Kenneth Allen had chased a suspect wanted in an assault on an elderly woman. Kinas got to him first. When Allen caught up, he started kicking the subdued suspect, Kinas claims. “He put a boot to him so I punched him in the jaw,” says Kinas. “I don’t back down from a fight, no matter who it is. I made a lot of enemies by attacking another cop. But he was roughing up my suspect.”
But Kinas is not the only person claiming that they were assaulted by Shane French last Independence Day. French is also charged with a felony for assaulting couture designer, Robin Vadaj. Prosecutors believe French “did knowingly attempt to cause serious physical harm” to her. Robin and her husband, Mark, were sleeping on their boat on Whiskey Island that night. When the fireworks started dropping on the marina, Robin shot out of bed, injuring her foot. That, prosecutors allege, is the assault.
Mark Vadaj is the President of Meta Technical Sales, a company that provides computer hardware to manufacturers. But his passion is boating. On Facebook, he calls himself “Commodore.” He’s friends with a lot of cops, including Steve Loomis, the former police union president. Loomis was Kinas’ training officer back in the day. Vadaj’s boat and Loomis’ boat escorted the tall ships when they sailed into Cleveland’s harbor.
“Steve Kinas is a hero,” says Vadaj. “Rover could have killed us.” Every boat has an exhaust port that leads to the fuel tank, he explains. It’s kind of like Luke Skywalker’s photon shooting into the Death Star — if one of the fireworks had gotten into the exhaust port… KABLAMO!
The morning after the incident at Whiskey Island, Mark and his family visited the tall ships. Walked around. Took pictures. Robin didn’t go to hospital for two days. Since then, doctors have placed a metal plate in her foot, she says. She only just got off crutches in April. However, photos on Facebook show her without crutches, strolling along at last year’s Feast of Assumption parade. And there was no sign of injury or cast when Robin twisted and shimmied around in high heels on Fox 8, in September, to show off her fashion line.
Asked why he thinks the fireworks hit his boat that night, Mark says, “It was pouring rain and the rain was pushing the fireworks lower to the ground.” Does he think Rover intentionally hit their boat with fireworks? “Man, I don’t know what they were doing,” he says.
Before Vadaj spoke to investigators, he called Kinas. “Mark Vadaj called me,” Kinas admits. “He said he had things he wanted to share. I told him we shouldn’t be talking, to call the detective.” That would be detective Dale Moran, a veteran investigator with the 2nd District. Moran did not respond to requests for comment.
There’s plenty of reason to believe the Cleveland police have had an axe to grind when it comes to Shane French and Rover’s Morning Glory. After Asa Coon shot up SuccessTech Academy years ago, a patrolman named Walter Emerick, who is currently on the executive board of the CPPA, snapped a photo of the dead fourteen-year-old student as blood poured from his nose. The photo made its way from Emerick to French, who put it on Morning Glory website. Emerick got in a lot of trouble for that, suspended for eight days. Loomis and the union were forced to do damage control in the papers.
Then there was the time Parma Heights resident Matthew Rakovec harassed the Rover Morning Glory crew. Rakovec showed up at the radio station one day, left a bunch of nudie mags in the building, shined green lasers at them through the windows. Rakovec was charged with inducing panic and aggravated trespassing. Rakovec’s brother is Cleveland police officer Tom Rakovec. Tom is engaged to police spokeswoman Jennifer Ciaccia, who was the first person from the Cleveland Police Department to speak about French’s arrest to the papers. The morning of the arrest, Ciaccia suggested to the Plain Dealer that felony charges were coming. Her fiancé Tom happens to be regular employee of… wait for it… Kinas’ Watchmen security company.
“I hope Rover goes away for a long, long time,” says Matt Rakovec, when reached by phone.
Kinas takes another drink and thinks back on that night, nearly a year ago.
“It was raining,” he says. “If I knew it was going to rain, we wouldn’t have stayed over. When it started, it was like a flash-bang, like the grenades police use on crowds, sometimes. My kids were screaming. They were scared.”
They were on his small yacht, once called Audrie, renamed Anger Managed after the divorce. The boat cost $110,000. Kinas looked out, saw the fireworks exploding over the harbor. “They weren’t getting altitude because of the rain. My first thought was that it was Loomis. I thought Loomis was shooting off the fireworks. His dock is usually the party dock. That’s where I went first. But it wasn’t him.”
The fireworks were coming from the yacht club next door. He went to the fence and saw a group of about fifteen young men and women gathered around something that looked like a mini-keg, launching volleys of fireworks. “I asked them to stop. Told them it was keeping us awake and scaring my kids. Someone over there said, ‘Okay, we’ll aim it the other way,’ and then Rover starts in: ‘Fuck your kids. Fuck your sleep.’”
After that, Kinas walked out to the road and around to the yacht club’s guard shack. He was dressed in swimming trunks, gun tucked into his waistband. He showed the guard his badge. She was already on the phone with 911.
The small crowd was still launching fireworks over the water. They weren’t going to stop. Kinas got angry. “I walked over and knocked the lighter out of the guy’s hand. Then I stepped on their fireworks. ‘Who the hell are you?’ someone says. I tell him, ‘I’m the fucking police, that’s who I am.’ He said, ‘Show me your badge’ and I said, ‘no.’”
Kinas walked back to the guard shack. He can be heard on the 911 recording saying that there was no problem. Then he walked to his car and used his personal cell phone to call into dispatch, himself. Cops Kinas knew personally came to arrest French.
“But I had nothing to do with the felonies,” says Kinas. “Rover’s lawyer started calling in favors the morning after his arrest. That rubbed people the wrong way downtown. That’s why he got the felonies.”
What really gets Kinas’ blood boiling when he thinks back on it are all the other people who were not arrested that night. They were goading him, filming him with their cell phone cameras. “Where are all those videos?” he asks. “You won’t find them because they don’t support the defense.”
All Kinas can do is wait but there was a time when he could have made a lot of money off the incident. “Day after the fireworks, I got a call from Howard Stern’s people. They offered my $50,000 if I’d come on the show, talk about what happened with Rover. I couldn’t. They would have suspended me, just like they’ll suspend me for talking to you.”
It’s a strange statement and one that’s hard to believe. Stern’s producers and lawyers are not in the habit of paying for stories. Attempts to verify Kinas’ claims were unsuccessful. (The witness list submitted by Rover today for the trial includes Howard Stern and the reporter of this story.)
There’s one last thing Kinas wants people to know. Rover’s lawyer, Larry Zukerman, accused the police of erasing Kinas’ initial interview in order to get his story straight in a second attempt. “Nobody erased that tape,” he says. “It was just bad luck. I’m an unlucky guy. Story of my life.”
Until now, Shane French has remained mostly quiet about that night, speaking only in vague terms when it comes up on Rover’s Morning Glory. When reached by Scene, French opened up for the first time:
“The past nine months have been extremely difficult. To be falsely accused, purposely, is something I never thought could happen to me. It’s a story you see on television or in a documentary that happens to someone else, something you can’t even fathom happening to yourself. How would you feel if I went on the radio and said that I saw you beat your wife? Or molest your child? Then when someone Googles your name, that’s what they see? You’d be furious at being lied about. That’s how I feel now.
“The allegations of what I said and did that night are preposterous. Almost every aspect of Kinas’ ever-changing account is a lie, and the evidence and eyewitness testimony will prove that. Even worse, we’ll show it’s a pattern that’s been going on for years.
“Let me be clear: I was the victim of a vicious, unprovoked assault that night. I was knocked unconscious by Kinas. I said I was going to file a complaint. The situation I find myself in now is retribution for that, plain and simple.”
James Renner is a former staff writer for Scene and the Free Times. His novel, The Man from Primrose Lane, was published in 2012. He currently teaches English at the University of Akron.