Former Akron police chief sues city, mayor, current chief

AKRON, Ohio - Former Akron Police Chief James Nice is suing the City of Akron and its major players for defamation and invasion of privacy after he claimed a malicious and highly-public attack was made against him on his character and reputation.

Nice resigned last August amid allegations of conduct unbecoming of an officer and inappropriate contact with a female officer. Nice also came under fire for making racially-charged comments to other officers. An investigation was also launched into the potential criminal misconduct of the former chief relating to an ongoing investigation of his nephew, Joseph Nice.

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Nice claimed the City of Akron, Mayor Daniel Horrigan and Akron Police Chief Kenneth Ball — who took over as police chief after Nice resigned — abused the legal process and damaged Nice's character and reputation to remove him from his position at the Akron Police Department. All three parties and "John Doe" Defendants are listed as defendants on the complaint, which demands a jury trial.

According to the complaint, it all began when Mayor Horrigan hired people who Nice felt were not right to fill their respective positions. Nice also claimed Horrigan pressured him to promote individuals who were loyal to Horrigan into high-level positions in the police department.

Nice said Horrigan tried to assert his influence over him in order to control the police department. According to the complaint, he notified members of Akron City Council about this and Horrigan was subsequently notified. Nice alleges that when it became apparent he would not submit to unconditional loyalty to the mayor, Horrigan tried to remove him as police chief.

In addition, Nice claimed he “exercised his First Amendment right to criticize the pardoning of convicted criminals and to make protected comments regarding [his] opinion that some judges were too lenient in sentencing convicted criminals.” Horrigan disapproved and would find ways to retaliate, the complaint said.

According to the complaint, Ball called Nice on Aug. 25, 2017 and accused him of making racially-derogatory comments towards a city official. Ball indicated he had a recording of the comments, which Nice claimed does not exist. Ball also said Joseph Nice alleged James Nice was involved in criminal activity in relation to a used car lot owned by Joseph Nice, according to the complaint.

In the same call, Ball asked for Nice’s resignation and said contesting the allegations would bring negative publicity to the department, the complaint said. To avoid embarrassment to the department and his family, Nice said he resigned.

However, in a statement released by the City of Akron in response to Nice’s complaint, Nice voluntarily resigned on Aug. 27, 2017 “following serious allegations that he engaged in conduct unbecoming of a member of the Akron Police Department.  When asked to respond to the allegations against him, James Nice chose to resign rather than face disciplinary action.” (Read the full statement at the bottom of this story.)

On Aug. 28, 2017, Horrigan held a press conference about Nice’s resignation and the derogatory comments Nice claimed to be false, according to the complaint. “Ball echoed these false allegations. Ball did this in hopes that Ball would be named [Nice’s] replacement as Akron Chief of Police (which ultimately occurred without any thorough search for candidates, which is customary),” the complaint said.

Nice said the allegations that he made racially derogatory statements are in contrast to his character and history. In the complaint, he said he has been praised by the African American community in Akron, including having received praise from the former president of the Akron chapter of the NAACP.

The complaint also claimed Joseph Nice was investigated and charged with grand theft, forgery and tampering with evidence. However, all charges were dropped. According to the complaint, the defendants and John Does used their influence to entice prosecutors to offer immunity to Joseph Nice in order to coerce a false testimony to be used against James Nice. Nice claimed these coerced statements were used “to instigate a bogus criminal prosecution against [him].”

Nice then claimed he was threatened by prosecutors to be charged with a number of serious felonies if he did not plead to a misdemeanor charge of misuse of a computer. He said the charge stemmed from his use of a computer to investigate a claim made by a victim of fraud related to the ownership of a car. According to Nice, his use of the computer was not illegal, but to avoid further prosecution and to minimize press coverage, he pleaded to the charge.

In all, Nice claimed the defendants made defamatory and false statements about him in order to degrade his character and invade his privacy by placing him before the public in a false light. He said they did these things in retaliation against his First Amendment rights, in an attempt to remove him from his position as police chief, to politically damage him and to harm his reputation.

Nice also claimed Ball used fraudulently-contrived recordings of his derogatory comments to influence him to resign. No such recordings exist, according to the complaint.

Nice said he suffered substantial damage during this process because he had to expend money and time to defend himself. He is seeking appropriate declaratory relief from the defendants’ actions, wanting to declare the city liable for all the acts described above, according to the complaint. He also said he is seeking compensatory damages, both economic and non-economic, in an amount to be determined at trial. He also wants all parties to be permanently restrained from continuing to partake in what he calls unlawful practices so that they do not continue to affect him, according to the complaint. Finally, he is seeking punitive damages, reasonable attorney’s fees and costs from defendants.

The City of Akron released the following statement: 

James Nice voluntarily resigned from the City of Akron on August 27, 2017, following serious allegations that he engaged in conduct unbecoming of a member of the Akron Police Department.  When asked to respond to the allegations against him, James Nice chose to resign rather than face disciplinary action. James Nice later pled guilty to a misdemeanor offense related to his criminal misuse of a police database and surrendered his Ohio Peace Officer Training Certification. Throughout this period, the various allegations against James Nice caused the City of Akron and the men and women of the Akron Police Department significant unwanted disruption and embarrassment.  At no point did the City misrepresent any information or mislead the public in any way regarding the former Chief’s apparent misconduct.
 
In 2018, the City of Akron and the Akron Police Department have moved on from that unfortunate chapter and are rightly focused on doing the critically important work of the Department – making Akron’s neighborhoods safer, protecting Akron homes and businesses, and improving the lives of Akron residents through engaged community policing.  While it is unfortunate that any additional taxpayer resources will be spent responding to a frivolous lawsuit by the former Chief, the City and Akron Police Department will not be distracted from fulfilling the work the community expects and deserves - responding to the pressing needs and concerns of our citizens and pursuing meaningful solutions to those truly important issues facing our city.

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