LORAIN — A Lorain police officer will spend five days in jail after pleading no contest Friday to a charge of disorderly conduct persisting. He will be allowed to remain on the police force.
Officer James O. Connell appeared before Lorain Municipal Court Judge Mark Mihok for the hearing, during which his original charge of domestic violence was amended to disorderly conduct persisting. He will report to jail Sunday.
Connell was sentenced to three years’ probation and will have to attend meetings of Alcoholics Anonymous twice a week for those three years, periodically meet with Mihok and undergo random drug and alcohol testing. He also signed a last-chance agreement with Lorain police that stipulates he will immediately be terminated from his job if he violates probation in the next three years.
James Connell’s attorney, J. Anthony Rich, told Mihok his client is a good officer who has a drinking problem. Rich said Connell chose not to go to trial to spare his wife and fellow officers the grief of having to testify against “one of their own.”
“He’s able to salvage his career and keep his career moving forward at this point,” Rich said. “He’s a proud officer, he’s a good officer, and I think this was an unfortunate event we have to take responsibility for, which he has.”
Connell told Mihok he intends to stay sober and continue attending Alcoholics Anonymous and counseling. He also said he has apologized to his wife and family, and he apologized to the court and the police department.
“I want to apologize for the embarrassment I have caused,” he said.
Nicole Connell told Mihok that since her husband got sober four months ago, he has become a better father and more involved in family life. She said she doesn’t want her husband to do any jail time but she understands the decision.
Nicole Connell said James Connell formerly had a beer fridge in his garage “man cave” that was full of beer. Today she said it is full of bottled water and he places his monthly sobriety tokens on it.
“Every time he goes to see (the refrigerator), he recognizes ‘I’m not going toward alcohol anymore; I’m going toward sobriety,’” she said.
Police have said an intoxicated James Connell attacked his wife in March in their home, where he tackled, punched and placed her in a chokehold after a birthday party for their 2-year-old son. The two got into an argument when Nicole Connell took James Connell’s phone because he was texting another woman.
Police reported that Nicole Connell hit her husband and at one point pushed him off of her, but he grabbed her again and put her in a chokehold. She said she felt herself start to lose consciousness, but James Connell released her before she passed out.
She told police she then ran toward the living room, but James Connell tackled her again and held her wrists while sitting on top of her. She said she continued to fight until James Connell let her up, and then called her father.
James Connell told police that he was “defending himself” and received scratches on his face and left hand during the encounter and asked his fellow officers to take photos of those injuries. The police report said Nicole Connell had swelling and bruising on her left arm, a raised red mark on her neck and a split lip with dried blood.
James Connell has since been attending Alcoholics Anonymous meetings regularly as well as meeting with a substance-abuse counselor and attending marriage counseling.
This wasn’t James Connell’s first alcohol-related incident. His personnel file shows he has had run-ins with fellow police officers in 2014 for walking around Lorain at night while intoxicated, riding an all-terrain vehicle in Lorain while intoxicated and driving in Garrettsville while intoxicated. In Garrettsville he was pulled over, but police took him and a friend to jail, allowed him to sober up and drive home later.
James Connell was never charged for any of those incidents, but he was ordered to undergo alcohol-addiction treatment after the last incident and received a three-day suspension from work that was held in abeyance on the condition of one year of good behavior.
James Connell also was required to report any contact with law enforcement within one hour of it happening and submit to random alcohol testing.
The personnel file also shows that Lorain Police Chief Cel Rivera wrote it was clear to James Connell’s supervisors that he had a drinking problem. An earlier report in James Connell’s file noted he told the police department’s employee review board that it was the last incident in 2014 that convinced him to seek treatment and begin attending Alcoholics Anonymous meetings.
Lorain police Capt. Roger Watkins told Mihok that James Connell is a good police officer, and alcohol-related incidents in his personal life have not affected his job performance.