LORAIN – A Lorain police officer was fired after an internal investigation found he abused his authority by conducting a traffic stop on his daughter’s boyfriend without cause and temporarily detained his daughter and her boyfriend in the back of his squad car.
Safety-Service Director Dan Given, Police Chief Cel Rivera and other command officers noted John Kovach Jr., a patrolman who joined the force in 1992, violated various sections of the department’s standards of conduct and policy and procedures during the April 16 incident.
He was fired May 11 and Given said the incident has been referred to County Prosecutor Dennis Will for review.
“These actions are not acceptable for members of our Police Department and we felt it warranted immediate dismissal,” Given said. The Police Department’s union is appealing the decision.
According to an internal investigation completed by Lt. Ed Super as well as dashcam footage from Kovach’s cruiser, shortly before 6 p.m. on April 16 a silver vehicle with a driver and three passengers passed Kovach’s patrol car in the same direction that he was facing on West 34th Street. Without alerting dispatch, Kovach initiates a stop.
He tells the driver, his daughter’s boyfriend Makai Coleman, 18, to get out because he’s “going to jail.” Coleman asks Kovach what for and Kovach responds: “Have a seat in my car. We’ll make (expletive) up as we go.” Coleman goes and sits in Kovach’s cruiser.
Kovach then addresses Gloria Morales, who comes out of her home nearby because her children are two of the three people in the car with Coleman. He tells Morales his daughter’s computer is inside her house and while she initially gives him permission to search the house, she later tells him to come back with a search warrant when he threatens to give her daughter a $300 ticket for not wearing her seatbelt.
Morales and Kovach argue back and forth after Kovach tells her to go inside the house. When she says she is calling 911, he threatens to arrest her, telling her it is not an emergency, according to documents related to the firing. He tells her two children to get out of the car and go with Morales. At that point, he notices his daughter, Katlyn Kovach, 18, in the backseat.
At that point, Kovach tells Coleman to get out of the cruiser and he pushes his daughter into the cruiser while she protests that she is 18 and can’t be arrested for without cause. He eventually gets her into the cruiser and drives away.
While all of that was going on, Kovach had been called to a road rage incident on Leavitt Road. According to the dashcam footage, Kovach does not respond to the call from dispatch.
Afterward, Kovach told Lt. Dan Smith he called Officer Efrain Torres after receiving the dispatch information and Torres told him he was not needed. Super noted nothing was seen or heard from the cruiser video to substantiate that Kovach made such a call.
In a complaint filed by Smith, the lieutenant said he was called to Morales’ West 34th Street home after the incident because she called 911 and said that Kovach was at her home in uniform and refusing to leave.
Smith said he spoke with both Coleman and his mother, and Coleman told him that Kovach had called him on the phone the week before and threatened to take out warrants against him and threatened to go to his Army recruiter to stop his enlistment.
Kovach told Smith he was worried for his daughter because he didn’t believe Coleman to be a good person, having been arrested for marijuana possession, and that his daughter was staying with Coleman against her parents’ wishes, according to documents related to the firing.
He also told his fellow officers his ex-wife had called to alert him to a post that Coleman had made on Facebook, saying he was going to “put (Katlyn) out” as a prostitute to make money for the two of them, according to the paperwork.
Kovach said he was looking for his daughter because when he spoke with her the week before, he believed she was suicidal and wanted to take her to the hospital.
He said he had tracked his daughter’s computer to the Morales’ home so he waited down the street for Coleman’s car and when he saw it, Coleman was driving at a high rate of speed and almost struck the cruiser.
Super, however, said in his investigative report that that was not how Coleman was driving.
Super also said Kovach’s ex-wife told police in an April 17 interview that she did not know what Facebook post her ex-husband was referring to but that she believed he was trying to be a father and did “not want him to lose everything” as both “she and John have concerns about the relationship” between their daughter and Coleman.
Kovach told Super he had received a phone call from his ex-wife the week before that she had come home to find Coleman and their daughter engaged in sexual conduct and when Coleman was asked to leave, he threatened her.
Kovach said when he spoke with his daughter on the phone she said “If I can’t be with him, I don’t want to be here anymore,” which he took to be a suicidal threat, according to the firing paperwork.
Discipline against Kovach
Smith and Sgt. Timothy Thompson went to Kovach’s home around 9:30 p.m. April 16 to place Kovach on administrative leave and to take his duty weapons and police cruiser.
At the end of his internal investigation, Super found that Kovach had violated the department’s standards of conduct by initiating the traffic stop on Coleman without cause, by threatening to arrest Morales, for taking Coleman into custody and saying he would make up the charges against him and for failing to back up Torres at a traffic stop.
Super also found that Kovach violated the department’s policy and procedures by using his police authority to locate his daughter and by failing to tell dispatch he was conducting a traffic stop.
Following the internal investigation, Kovach had a pre-disciplinary hearing April 27 in front of the Employee Review Board, made up of captains Thomas Mize and Roger Watkins and Lt. Michael Falling, who is an acting captain.
At the hearing, the panel reviewed the findings and found them to be substantiated.
“Since the chief of police can only discipline personnel by suspension to a level of three days, the board feels strongly that the matter should be moved to the level of Safety Service Director for disciplinary action,” an interoffice memo said. “This is due to the very serious nature of the violations, which rise to the level of gross misconduct, place the Police Department in a position of liability, and could result in discipline up to and including termination.”
In a memo to Given, Rivera said he concurred with the board and more sections of the department’s standards and policies had been violated, including Kovach not being truthful to supervisors and Super.
Rivera said the actions were “an abuse of police authority and a serious departure from appropriate protocol…they are contrary to the mission, values and policies of the Lorain Police Department.”
Given held another pre-disciplinary hearing May 9 and on May 11 issued Kovach a letter saying he was being terminated immediately, noting he had the right to appeal the decision through the collective bargaining agreement with Fraternal Order of Police Lodge No. 3.
FOP President Kyle Gelenius said Kovach is contesting his firing through the grievance process, which has reached the arbitration stage.
“Because the collective bargaining agreement stipulates that disciplinary procedures are private, I will reserve my comments until after the case has been decided,” Gelenius said. “Nonetheless, Officer Kovach is looking forward to presenting his side of the story to a neutral arbitrator this coming September, when the arbitration is scheduled.”
According to the grievance, Kovach did not display gross misconduct and the city violated his contractual rights by firing him.
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