by Holly Matkin and Sandy Malone
Perrysburg, OH – The Perrysburg City police chief, who refused to allow his officers to assist a neighboring law enforcement agency in the wake of a fatal officer-involved shooting of an armed man with two hostages, has announced he is stepping down from his position.
Perrysburg Police Chief Daniel Paez submitted his letter of resignation on Dec. 3, just days after Perrysburg Mayor Tom Mackin released a Lucas County Sherriff’s Office report detailing the city’s response to the Aug. 27 shooting in Perrysburg Township, the Toledo Blade reported.
The sheriff’s office report was “intended to prove an objective factual account” of what occurred, and did not say it was conducted as an investigation into accusations of dereliction of duty, according to the report.
Perrysburg City Officer in Charge Jim Williams told investigators that on Aug 27, he heard Perrysberg Township (NOTE: The Township and City are two different jurisdictions) officers radio that they had an incident of “shots fired,” and that the suspect had taken a hostage, according to the report.
Officer Williams told investigators he “immediately went to Chief Paez’s office and informed Chief Paez about the pursuit and that shots had been fired,” the report read.
Officer Williams said that the chief “told him to have their units stay in the city unless they were asked for mutual aid,” so he passed the message on to the officers on the street.
The officers either didn’t get the message or didn’t listen, which led to a an apparently furious police chief arriving on scene to order his officers to abandon the Township officers.
According to the Lucas County Sheriff’s Office report, a Perrysburg Township sergeant had “asked the city officers to relieve the Township officers involved at the scene that had direct encounter with the suspect/shooting because they were traumatized.”
Four Perrysburg City officers were assisting in that regard when Chief Paez arrived in the area of the active crime scene to order his officers to leave.
The chief admitted that he “never spoke to the incident commander or any other Township officer” before he ordered his officers to get into their cars and leave the area, the report said.
“Chief Paez also stated that he did not really see or know what his other officers were doing,” although he later claimed he pulled them out because they were too inexperienced to help.
He did not ask if the officers were needed, according to the report.
“Chief Paez stated, ‘hindsight is 20/20 and that if he knew that his officers were actively assisting at this scene he would have let them continue to assist,” the report stated.
The chief also told investigators that, if presented with the same situation again, he would ask whether or not his officers were needed before he ordered them to leave.
“The report specifically found that the Chief’s failure to check in with the incident commander…before deciding about how to proceed was not the best way to handle the situation,” Perrysburg Mayor Tom Mackin’s statement read. “The Chief acknowledges this finding.”
But during his interview with investigators, Chief Paez denied Officer Williams’ claim that he had ordered Perrysburg City officers stand down, and instead told the investigators that “he never gave the order to stay in the city after shots were fired,” according to the report.
“In reviewing this portion of the incident, we find that the Perrysburg Police Division’s Policy on Exigent Police Response outside their jurisdiction clearly states that Perrysburg Officers should immediately respond when a situation involving shots fired and hostage taken is occurring in an area adjacent to the city,” the report noted.
Despite the Lucas Sheriff’s Office’s findings, Mayor Mackin continued to support the police chief, and indicated that most of the problems related to the Perrysburg City police response on Aug. 27 was due to “education and training” as well as “communications systems” issues, rather than cowardly and incompetent leadership, according to his statement.
Mackin released a statement along with the Lucas County Sheriff’s report, and excused the inconsistencies between Officer Williams’ and Chief Paez’s accounts as a “breakdown” in communication during a “volatile incident,” which created “confusion.”
“The report does not state, imply, or provide a basis for a conclusion there was a dereliction of duty by anyone involved in the incident,” the mayor wrote. “There is a vast, and significant difference between concluding that our personnel could [and should] have done more in response to this incident, and the inflammatory and unsupported charge of dereliction of duty.”
Chief Paez’s last day on the job will be Jan. 8, 2019, according to his letter of resignation.
“We were disappointed that that was the choice he made, because he’s really done a great job for the community,” Mackin told WTVG.
The mayor said he never intended to fire Chief Paez or to ask him to resign from his position.
“He deserves to stay on the job,” Mackin said. “There was no way that I was going to terminate him.”
“I consider issues related to the Chief’s performance closed,” he wrote in a statement. “I will, however, continue to move forward with reforms to improve the police division’s overall communication and performance.”
Perrysburg City Councilman Haraz Ghanbari disagreed, and said that no one has been held accountable for what could have been a deadly situation for officers and citizens.
“The investigator’s findings clearly conclude Perrysburg Police Chief Dan Paez violated his own policy manual when it came to his police officers providing assistance to Perrysburg Township Police Officers, and innocent citizens, whose lives were in imminent jeopardy,” Ghanbari told the Toledo Blade.
“This cannot simply be brushed under the rug with a statement that boils down to ‘we’ll do better next time,’” he said.
The incident that led to the gunfight began at about 2:14 p.m. on Aug. 27, after Perrysburg Township police stopped a vehicle for a traffic violation on I-75, according to the Toledo Blade.
Perrysburg Township Police Lieutenant Matt Gazarek found the driver, 29-year-old Christopher Geiger of Pembroke, Georgia, in possession of marijuana and took him into custody, Perrysburg Township Police Detective Sergeant Todd Curtis told the Toledo Blade.
While Lt. Gazarek was arresting Geiger, one of the passengers in the vehicle slid behind the wheel of the vehicle and took off.
Lt. Gazarek told Blue Lives Matter that as soon as the vehicle fled, he asked Perrysburg Township dispatchers to notify Perrysburg City for help.
“I said notify Perrysburg City – and once I say that, no matter what, that’s a request for assistance. That was about 15 minutes before the shooting,” he explained.
Det. Sgt. Curtis said the driver stopped the vehicle shortly thereafter to let out 33-year-old Robert Scarrow, and police apprehended him at SR 795 and Simmonds Road, the Toledo Blade reported.
As he fled, the driver crossed from Perrysburg Township into the City of Perrysburg, and then back into Perrysburg Township again.
City officers spotted the suspect vehicle while it was in their jurisdiction and attempted to stop it, but the driver fled and officers lost sight of him.
As City officers continued to comb their own jurisdiction for the suspect vehicle, Township officers once again located it and began a pursuit.
As the suspect drove his car off the road and into a bean field, with Township officers right behind him, their dispatchers put out yet another mutual aid call to request help from the City of Perrysburg, according to recordings of phone conversations between the Perrysburg City and Perrysburg Township dispatchers.
The suspect drove off-road for about a mile before he crashed into a ditch.
The driver jumped out of the car and took off on foot, firing his weapon at Township officers behind him.
“As the suspect fled, he fired on the police officers with a handgun,” Perrysburg Township Administrator Walter Celley told WTVG. “The officers returned fire.”
The suspect ran into a yard occupied by a man and his elderly grandfather, who was mowing the lawn.
He held a gun to the grandfather’s head initially, and then took the grandson hostage, holding a gun to his head as he made his way toward a golf cart parked not far away.
“At that point in time, the Perrysburg Township dispatcher is telling the Perrysburg City dispatcher ‘we have shots fired, we have hostages taken,’ and our chief instructed another officer in our jurisdiction to put it out over the radio that all City of Perrysburg units needed to stand down,” Perrysburg City Councilman Haraz Ghanbari said.
Blue Lives Matter reviewed the radio dispatch recordings of the incident and confirmed the councilman’s timeline of when Chief Paez told City of Perrysburg officers to stand down was accurate.
Officers surrounded the golf cart and were able to get the grandson away from the gunman, WTVG reported.
When the gunman again threatened officers, they opened fire, killing him.
City of Perrysburg Officers Mark Lepkowski and William Chalfant arrived on the scene just after Perrysburg Township officers shot the hostage-taker.
Dashcam video showed that when Officer Lepkowski arrived, there were five Perrysburg Township police vehicles and one Ohio State Highway Patrol vehicle on the scene.
Three of the Perrysburg Township officers had been involved in the shooting and couldn’t be used for scene-control purposes.
Shortly thereafter, Chief Paez arrived near the scene, but never went much further than his patrol vehicle, dashcam footage showed.
Without ever having spoken to the incident commander or actually approaching the scene, he keyed the microphone on his radio and ordered his officers to abandon the crime scene.
“Twenty-six to units at the scene, I want you back in your cars right now,” the chief ordered all of the Perrysburg City officers.
Less than one minute later, Chief Paez was back on the radio, barking orders at his officers who were securing the crime scene.
“Twenty-six to all units – was I clear? I need you back to your vehicles now!” the chief ordered his officers with an angry voice, video and audio recordings showed. Officers responded and let him know they were on their way.
Chief Paez defended his actions, and said he had made the decision to keep his officers away from the scene for safety reasons because the officers on shift were “inexperienced,” WTOL reported.
“The reason I pulled our people is not because I was denying help,” Chief Paez explained at a Perrysburg City Council Safety Meeting shortly after the incident. “It was out of fear that we had some inexperienced officers that were on the inner perimeter of that crime scene.”
But Ghanbari told WTOL that the four officers who were ordered to stand down had a combined 60 years of law enforcement experience between them.
“Chief Paez ordered his officers to stand down as the shots were being fired and the suspect was taking hostages,” Ghanbari told Blue Lives Matter in October.
“Those officers could have died that day. The hostages could have died that day… but for the grace of God, nobody else was killed,” the councilman raged. “I don’t think that the chief’s actions were just a violation of the mutual aid agreement, I think it was a dereliction of duty.”
Multiple sources told Blue Lives Matter that Chief Paez’s actions at the August shooting scene were typical of his mutual aid responses in the past, and that the problems have nothing to do with the Perrysburg City officers’ abilities or experience levels.
“Their officers are fine officers and they are more than capable of backing us up. We know that,” Lt. Gazarek told Blue Lives Matter. “They’re more than capable of being [officers] and doing this job. Otherwise, they wouldn’t be police officers. But they’re held back and we feel that we can’t count on them to back us up because of their chief.”