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Bellaire residents speak against police hire

BELLAIRE — Arieane Miles said the village’s decision to hire former Cleveland police officer Timothy Leohmann is “mind-blowing.”

“I’m appalled,” said Miles, a Bellaire resident who is black. “I think it’s ridiculous. It’s scary.”

Miles was one of several people who expressed concern Saturday about Loehmann joining the Bellaire Police Department part-time. Chief Richard “Dick” Flanagan said Friday he had hired the embattled officer as a new part-timer. Another officer Flanagan hired is Eric Smith, who has been suspended as police chief in Bethesda and is under investigation by the Ohio Attorney General’s Office for allegedly misusing a state computer system design for law enforcement research.

“I don’t think it’s good,” said Myriah Presutti who also said she is worried. “I think there are a lot of colored in Bellaire and lots of kids play in the streets. I have a nephew and a niece who are colored.”

Loehmann, who is white, shot and killed Tamir Rice, who was black, when he worked as a full-time officer for the Cleveland Police Department. Although a Cuyahoga County grand jury did not indict him, the department later fired Loehmann because he allegedly had omitted information from his employment application.

In addition to allegedly omitting information about what officials there considered to be a forced resignation from the police department in Independence, Ohio, they also said he didn’t disclose that he had failed a police entrance exam when he applied for a policeman’s job in Maple Heights, Ohio.

Loehmann’s hiring has prompted concerns from the black community on both sides of the Ohio River. A Facebook post inviting people to attend the 6 p.m. Oct. 18 Bellaire Village Council meeting had been shared hundreds of times by late afternoon Saturday.

Loehmann’s hiring “was a punch in the stomach to a lot of people,” said Ron Scott Jr., cultural diversity and community outreach director for the YWCA in Wheeling. “I can’t describe the feelings people were having.”

Scott made the initial Facebook post encouraging people to come to the council meeting. He said this issue is not entirely one of race.

“I’m just a man who felt a certain way when he read the article” about Loehmann being hired, Scott said.

Not everyone is as concerned about the department’s decision to hire Loehmann.

“I know Bellaire needed to hire new officers,” said Tom Junkins, who was a Belmont County sheriff’s deputy until 1973 when he left to become a coal miner. “I don’t see anything wrong with it at all.

“The problem here is that there are a lot of drug users that are coming into town,” he said.

But Hope McFadden said she doesn’t like the idea of Loehmann patrolling Bellaire’s streets.

“That cop in Cleveland got fired because he was unstable,” she said. “This is a scary town.”

Flanagan said Friday that he hired Loehmann and Smith because he believes they deserve second chances.

“He was cleared of any and all wrongdoing,” Flanagan said of Loehmann. “He was never charged. It’s over and done with.”

Some believe that Loehmann doesn’t deserve a second chance because of his actions in Cleveland.

“I don’t feel that anybody who shot a child should be employed by law enforcement,” said Carrie Bonenberger, who added that she has lived in Bellaire for 35 years.

Christa Houston said she agreed. She called the decision to hire Loehmann “disgusting.”

“I’m not very happy about it at all,” she said. “These two cops ended up here because no one else wants them. They shouldn’t have been hired here.”

But Robert Vessels said he would give Loehmann a chance.

“It should be OK,” he said.

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