LORAIN — The city of Lorain has paid $45,000 to a woman who was wrongly arrested by Lorain police officers last year in a case of mistaken identity.
Lorain Law Director Pat Riley said the city did not admit to wrongdoing by officers in the settlement — which is less than the city’s maximum insurance deductable of $50,000. The deal ends a lawsuit filed by Jennifer McCartney in May against the city and officers Tabitha Angello, Kyle Gelenius and Howard Heathcoat.
Mark Petroff, McCartney’s lawyer, said he was pleased with the speed in which the lawsuit was resolved, but he added that Gelenius made a mistake when he arrested McCartney on warrants for a woman with the same name who is 15 years younger and looks nothing like the McCartney who was taken into custody May 28, 2011.
“I think they have an obligation to make sure the person they’re arresting is the appropriate person,” Petroff said.
According to an internal police report on the investigation into McCartney’s arrest, Angello, who was off duty and at a bar with a friend, called Lorain police dispatch at 10:51 p.m. Angello asked for a warrant check on McCartney, who she told the dispatcher was born in March 1990.
The McCartney who was arrested was born in April 1975.
The check turned up warrants from both Lorain and Elyria police, and Angello told the dispatcher she would call back. When she called back at 11:03 p.m., she gave the dispatcher McCartney’s address, which is two houses away from where Angello lives. She also told the dispatcher to send Gelenius and Heathcoat to the address.
An internal investigation determined that Angello had been involved in a neighborhood dispute involving McCartney’s family and had an argument with the family earlier in the day.
Angello called dispatch again at 11:29 p.m. and asked for a physical description of McCartney. When she was given the description, she told the dispatcher she thought McCartney was older but said the description matched.
The dispatcher then sent Gelenius and Heathcoat to McCartney’s house, where her mother, Deborah Kopis, answered the door for Gelenius.
According to Kopis, Gelenius asked for McCartney, who came to the door wearing a nightgown and asked what was going on.
Gelenius replied that she had two warrants for her arrest and that he had to take her to jail, according to the accounts of those involved.
McCartney wrote in her complaint that both she and her mother told Gelenius that she didn’t have any warrants out for her arrest. She wrote that she had recently passed a background check through the Lorain County Sheriff’s Office and asked to show proof to Gelenius, who refused.
“He grew frustrated that I kept questioning him,” McCartney wrote. “I asked him again what this was all about and he said in an agitated tone, ‘You know what,’ then grabbed me by my neck with extreme force and pulled me by my neck out the front door.”
McCartney wrote that she skinned her left elbow and shins as Gelenius maneuvered her so he could handcuff her. She wrote that at the time she was being treated for injuries sustained in a car crash and saw stars during the process.
Gelenius told investigators later that McCartney wanted to debate him over the warrants after he had told the family to get her some clothes.
“After McCartney failing to comply with my numerous orders, I grabbed McCartney by the arm to place her in handcuffs,” the internal report said. “McCartney pulled away breaking his grasp. Ofc. Gelenius pulled her out of the doorway and swung her around at which time McCartney lost her balance a little bit slightly falling to her knees.”
Gelenius then took McCartney to his patrol car, which was parked down the street in the rain, and put her in the back. He then checked the last four digits of her Social Security number and was told by a dispatcher the numbers didn’t match the person the warrants were for.
Five minutes later, Gelenius called dispatch again to confirm the information on the warrant.
“This is when I discovered there were discrepancies in the description, age, DOB, SS#, etc.,” Gelenius said in the internal report.
He wrote that McCartney was then released.
“I informed McCartney and her father of the situation and a police report would be left on this matter, to include possible filing of charges against McCartney for Obstruction of Official Business and Resisting Arrest,” Gelenius said in the internal report.
McCartney was never charged, and Sgt. Albert Rivera, who conducted the internal investigation, wrote those charges would have been inappropriate because they can only be imposed when the arrest warrant is lawful.
In recommending a written reprimand against Gelenius for violating rules regarding excessive use of force and competent performance, Capt. Steve Schmittle wrote in December 2011 that Gelenius should have gotten confirmation of who he was arresting before he took McCartney into custody.
“Placing McCartney into handcuffs, taking her from her residence prior to confirming an arrest warrant, is not reasonable when considering the totality of circumstances revealed in the investigation,” Schmittle wrote.
Although Schmittle found no fault with Heathcoat’s actions, he did take issue with Angello’s involvement, writing that serving warrants for misdemeanors at 11:30 p.m. “is not a customary practice and not a wise use of police authority."
He wrote that she should be given a written warning for violating the law enforcement code of ethics.
Rivera wrote that he also had questions about how Angello knew the date of birth for the McCartney with the warrants out for her arrest. She had told him her friend at the bar gave her the information.
Exactly what the status of the internal police investigation is remains a question.
Police Chief Cel Rivera and Gelenius, who is the president of the city’s police union, did not return calls seeking comment.
Geoffrey Smith, the city’s human resources director, said Chief Rivera has not forwarded disciplinary recommendations to him.
Contact Brad Dicken at 329-7147 or firstname.lastname@example.org.