PUT-IN-BAY, Ohio — The mayor of Put-in-Bay has launched an outside investigation into police practices in the village following a June 6 incident, which is raising questions about the transparency of the Put-in-Bay Police Department.
“We are changing the Put-in-Bay Police Department to change in a better future direction,” Mayor Jessica Dress told News 5 Monday.
Newly released body camera footage of an exchange between Put-in-Bay police officers and a group of Black men and women on a golf cart earlier this month is now being denounced and called disturbing by the village’s mayor.
“In reviewing the footage, I am deeply saddened and deeply concerned of the actions and decisions made of Put-in-Bay police officers that evening,” Dress said.
The officers approached the group on a golf cart in a Put-in-Bay parking lot after alleging the driver was operating the vehicle recklessly and ran a stop sign, police records show.
At one point in the video, an officer can be heard accusing a woman of hiding something in her shorts.
“I’m going to get a female officer and she’s going to search the s*** out of you, so you better just tell me what he gave you,” one officer said.
Records show officers placed one person in custody and then officers claimed other passengers became combative while trying to overpower the responding officers.
Lieutenant Michael Russo stated in the report that the group towered over both him and Corporal Terry Rutledge as they were on the ground attempting to make an arrest.
Nearly 30 minutes of body camera footage shows the interaction shift from civil to chaotic as several people demanded to know why they were under arrest and officers can be heard threatening to shoot.
During the interaction, an officer asked, “Do you want to get shot?” despite pleas from the group that nobody was armed.
Police records show nine people involved in the incident were arrested on various charges of assault, aggravated rioting and resisting arrest. Mayor Dress confirmed those charges have since been dropped by the Ottawa County Prosecutor’s Office.
Later that evening, deputies from Ottawa County, Sandusky County and Erie County, along with the Coast Guard, were called for backup after alleged rioting at Put-in-Bay police headquarters hours after the golf cart altercation.
Ottawa County Sheriff Steve Levorchick said he and other responding agencies were under the impression that friends of the suspects were causing trouble at the Put-in-Bay Police Department.
“The Coast Guard told us that they had been told by the police department that they were barricaded in their police department and there were 30 to 40 people in their lobby rioting,” Levorchick said.
However, when he and other departments arrived, Levorchick said they were not met with resistance and did not witness any rioting.
“Arrived at the dock, walked to the police department, had absolutely zero negative contacts with anyone,” Levorchick said. “It was completely opposite of what we saw when we arrived. I don’t know what happened.”
Mayor Dress said the call for extensive backup from outside agencies was a miscommunication that will be addressed and investigated accordingly.
“I have no reason to believe any differently that there was, at least, ineffective communication between our agency and the agencies that offered assistance,” Dress said.
Sheriff Levorchick has since reviewed the body camera footage of the golf cart arrests by Put-in-Bay police officers and said the lack of de-escalation tactics used in that particular incident was troubling.
“That entire situation could’ve been handled much differently and it would’ve had a much better outcome,” Levorchick said. “This is a time to try to come together and I did not see a lot of that there.”
Mayor Dress confirmed Put-in-Bay Police Chief Steve Riddle is on paid administrative leave pending an investigation from outside law enforcement experts and Captain Matt Mariano is now the acting chief.
“Any such behavior of that kind will not be tolerated under my administration,” Dress said.
The investigation will likely be conducted by a retired police chief or U.S. Marshal with no known ties to the area, according to Mayor Dress.
Lt. Michael Russo, who conducted the initial stop, along with Sgt. Melissa Wilde, who responded after Russo called for backup, have both resigned.
Mayor Dress confirmed Lt. Russo and Sgt. Wilde are in a public, romantic relationship.
As of Monday, Cpl. Terry Rutledge is still employed by the Put-in-Bay Police Dept.