City of Lakewood
Lakewood City Council, from L to R: Jason Shachner, John Litten, Sarah Kepple, Dan O’Malley, Tess Neff, Tristan Rader, Tom Bullock
The West Shore Fraternal Order of Police, which represents police officers from the Cleveland suburbs of North Olmsted, Fairview Park, Rocky River, Bay Village, Westlake, and Lakewood, sent a strongly worded letter to Lakewood City Council last week criticizing some of its members for participating in recent racial justice demonstrations.
Written by West Shore FOP Secretary Sgt. Steve Fioritto, the letter accused council members Sarah Kepple, Dan O'Malley and Tristan Rader of attending the May 30th protest in downtown Cleveland and "adding to the chaos" by remaining downtown after dusk, when property destruction began in response to police violence.
"These so-called city leaders should have left the area once these protests began to turn violent but chose to remain and be part of the problem," the letter alleged.
Further, it accused Sarah Kepple of attending a June 2nd protest which was scheduled to include a demonstration outside Lakewood City Hall. The letter insinuated that Kepple kept this information from police.
In light of these invented infractions, the West Shore FOP demanded a "formal apology" from the named council members to all its officers who were "put into great danger on Saturday."
The Lakewood Council members issued a written response Monday. "We are confounded and disappointed that you would send a letter so full of inaccuracies and demonstrably false allegations," they wrote.
All three said that while they attended the May 30th demonstrations, they had long since departed by the time of the evening looting. They also refuted the idea that Council member Kepple knowingly withheld information about the June 2nd protest.
"It was common knowledge to the public and to law enforcement that these
demonstrators might peacefully march to City Hall and assemble there," they wrote. "This has been confirmed by department leadership and many other officials we have spoken with before and since. To represent otherwise and allege that a councilmember “put police officers at greater risk” by not sharing information that was already widely known is an appalling accusation."
Far from an apology, the letter questioned what the FOP sought to achieve by "besmirching our efforts to provide leadership and reassurance at this
moment of heightened tension in the community."
Reached by phone, councilman Dan O'Malley called the FOP letter "bizarre," especially given his legislative support for police in the past.
"Ironically, my last interaction with Sgt. Fioritto was when I introduced the police officers memorial week resolution two years ago and personally presented it to him," he said. "This is my next interaction with him, being accused of looting and rioting and putting officers in danger. It's crazy."
O'Malley said that while he and his council colleagues certainly did not participate in rioting, they were proud to be at the demonstrations.
"What's going on in this country needs to change," he said. "And that they would interpret our presence [at the protests] in this way is completely ridiculous."
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