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Complaint: Former Sheffield Lake police chief mocked Latino officer's Roman Catholic faith, ethnicity

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Posted at 6:11 PM, Jun 21, 2022
and last updated 2022-06-21 19:37:16-04

SHEFFIELD LAKE, Ohio — A second Sheffield Lake police officer has come forward with allegations of racial discrimination and harassment against former police chief Anthony Campo, who resigned last year amid an internal investigation into a racial incident involving the department’s lone Black officer.

Officer Audali “A.J.” Torres, a retired state trooper that has worked part-time with Sheffield Lake Police Department since 2013, filed a charge of discrimination with the Ohio Civil Rights Commission in February. In a news conference held over Zoom on Tuesday afternoon, Torres detailed the numerous instances where he felt targeted by former chief Campo, including allegations of constant harassment about Torres’ religion and ethnicity.

Torres, a US Marine and a three-time winner of state trooper of the year honors, is a devout Roman Catholic and avid volunteer with the Open Hearts Foundation. Beloved by many Lorain County residents, Torres travels on mission trips to El Salvador every year.

“I don’t put away my nationality and heritage when I come to work. I shouldn’t have to hide my religion either,” Torres said.

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Sheffield Lake Police Officer AJ Torres

The paperwork associated with charges of discrimination is generally considered confidential. However, Torres’ attorneys provided a copy of the complaint at News 5’s request.

According to the complaint, when Torres began working part-time for SLPD, he reached an agreement and understanding with the city that would allow him to have Sundays off so he could honor the Sabbath. However, Torres claims this agreement upset Campo, who allegedly tried to force Torres into working on the Sabbath. Campo also allegedly insulted Torres publicly for not working Sundays, according to the complaint.

When Torres opted to use his paid time off in order to go on his annual mission trip to El Salvador, Campo allegedly made insulting comments about Torres’ plans, the complaint said. Campo is alleged to have insulted Torres for observing Lent.

Furthermore, Torres wrote in his complaint that Campo included images with Torres’ face “photoshopped” onto a jar of salsa. The complaint also alleges that Campo included images of Torres’ face on the body of a priest and an image of Torres on one of his mission trips. The complaint states that the photo contained a thought bubble implying that Torres was a pedophile, alluding to the child sex abuse scandal that has rocked the Catholic Church for many years.

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Previous attempts to stand up to Campo were met with threats of reduced hours, as well as the inability for Torres to use a city police cruiser as part of his charity work with the Open Hearts Foundation, which involves the mentorship of young, at-risk children, the complaint alleges.

Torres said the repeated alleged harassment and discrimination eventually took a toll, but the June 2021 incident involving fellow officer, Keith Pool, served as the catalyst to come forward.

“I would try to have faith and calm down, [telling myself] it’s just ignorance. But then the icing on the cake was when Pool’s situation came up. I said, ‘he’s not alone,’” Torres said.

The incident involving Officer Pool happened on June 25, 2021, according to a time stamp on the video. Footage of the incident shows Campo placea yellow police raincoat face down on a desk with the hood prominently visible. The word "POLICE" is emblazoned on the raincoat. Campo then places a white folded piece of paper on the jacket with what appears to be three words printed on it, and then places it over the top of the word "police."

The piece of paper reportedly had the words ‘KU KLUX KLAN’ written on it. At the time, Pool was the only Black officer at SLPD. Campo quickly retired after the video was made public and Pool filed a charge of discrimination in November.

“It’s insulting that the community has had to endure [Campo] for many years. Rather than getting justice, now I feel even more dehumanized and disrespected by the city,” Pool said.

Shortly after his immediate retirement, Campo told News 5 that the incident was “a joke that got out of hand.” News 5 has reached out to the law director of Sheffield Lake, David Graves, for comment.

“When you have an occasion such as these that Officer Pool and Officer Torres have described and that are described in their charges… the system is broken,” said Ashlie Case Sletvold, the managing partner for the Cleveland office of the law firm Peiffer Wolf Carr Kane Conway & Wise, better known as Peiffer Wolf.

Sletvold told reporters that even close to a year after the incident involving Officer Pool became public, the Sheffield Lake Police Department has yet to undergo any sort of equity, diversity and inclusion training, nor has there been any training related to workplace harassment.

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“The fire department immediately implemented such training but the police department still has not conducted any training and has rejected numerous offers from folks to come in and provide free training,” Sletvold said.

Since the allegations from Officer Pool and Officer Torres have become public, both veteran officers said that their fellow officers at SLPD have rallied around and supported them. Both men also said the community at large has supported them. However, both Torres and Pool would like to see city officials more staunchly support them as well.

“I am disappointed that the city that I serve is not taking what former Chief Campo did more seriously,” Torres said. “What is to prevent it from happening again? The only joke I see is the city’s response and no one is laughing at it.”