Mayor issues notification letter, Horner faces investigation
Portsmouth Police Chief Charles H. Horner has been relieved of his duties by Mayor James Kalb, and he faces an investigation by Ohio Bureau of Criminal Identification and Investigation.
Amid a controversy between Horner and Portsmouth businessman Edward L. (Lee) Scott, Kalb issued a letter to Horner informing him he was being placed on administrative leave, "pending an investigation regarding allegations of misconduct and abuse of power."
In that letter, Kalb said the investigation will include, but not be limited to, the circumstances surrounding a search warrant obtained on or about May 14, involving Scott and a vehicle under his control.
Horner was in his office when he received the letter.
"There has been a major development in this whole episode," he said. "The mayor has relieved me of duty. He has placed me on administrative leave. He (Kalb) said basically there have been allegations of misconduct and abuse of power by Lee Scott, and he's relieving me of duty until he can investigate it."
The letter goes on to inform Horner he is not permitted on city of Portsmouth property without the knowledge of the mayor, and orders Horner not to act in any official capacity as police chief or as a law enforcement officer. Horner also is not to communicate with anyone, "other than your attorney, spouse and clergy regarding the facts and circumstances surrounding this investigation unless specifically requested as part of this investigation."
The letter concludes by ordering Horner to turn in all city property by the end of Friday.
Portsmouth city solicitor Mike Jones said he is not able to discuss the particulars of the investigation, but did talk about the procedure.
"Obviously, the allegations are serious enough that the mayor felt that we need to place the chief on administrative leave to protect this investigation," he said. "I stress, at this point, that's what it is - allegations."
Jones said he saw the situation as an obligation by the mayor to do an independent investigation.
"I'm not at liberty to discuss what the specific nature of the allegations are," he said. "The procedure is such that an independent investigation has to be conducted. We are going to be requesting that the Bureau of Criminal Identification and investigation conduct that investigation."
Jones said it was obvious to him Portsmouth Police Department would not be the appropriate place to investigate the charges, and he said the same goes for Scioto County Sheriff's Office, because of the close working relationship between the two agencies.
"Obviously, amidst the allegations involving the head of the police department, I think we need to have an outside party come in and give us a fair, independent and impartial review," he said. "And whatever happens with the investigation, if the allegation is substantiated, the mayor has to address that. And if it is unsubstantiated, then he has to address that issue."
Jones said there is no time frame for the completion of the investigation, because it would be up to BCI&I to determine the time needed.
Howard Baughman, president of City Council said, "With the pending litigation, I don't think it's appropriate to comment. It is an administrative matter being handled by the mayor's office and solicitor's office, and I'll wait to find out more information."
Portsmouth City Councilman Bob Mollette said he was surprised to hear about the action taken by the mayor. He was asked if he had clashed with Horner on occasion, and he said the two clashed at the most recent City Council meeting, but that wasn't the first time.
Mollette made reference to a letter he (Mollette) had sent to the president of City Council on March 20, 2007, complaining about accusations he said Horner made about him.
"I said basically that I was getting tired of the bullying tactics and intimidation that was demonstrated at these meetings," he said. "I felt that Horner was attacking me because of my Web site, and he was saying that I was posting confidential information, and it was public record."
Mollette went on to say, "At the time, what I was posting was not marked as confidential, and at that time, he was saying that I should be investigated and potentially removed from office, which since that time it is obvious that none of those accusations were true."
The move by Kalb to relieve Horner comes on the same day Scott, through his attorney James Banks, filed another lawsuit against Horner - his second in five days - in Scioto County Common Pleas Court.
The first suit was filed against Horner individually and in his capacity as Portsmouth police chief.
Friday's suit is in response to statements made by Horner in his response to the first lawsuit.
"It basically charges him (Horner) with everything that he stated in the paper yesterday (Thursday); That he is trying to trample all over constitutional rights for freedom of speech," Scott said. "I'm not a lawyer. I don't know all the legal terms. The bottom line is that Horner has connected me with everything in the area except Osama bin Laden being at my house for dinner. So, he's going to have to verify everything that he said to your newspaper yesterday."
The suit contains two claims. The first being, "Since in or about 2004 and to the present time, defendant Horner has made statements to members of the Portsmouth Daily Times and/or the Scioto County community and others to the effect that and/or insinuating that plaintiff is involved in illegal activity and/or that his political activity is contrary to law and/or that he is a terrorist and/or that he is involved in a terrorist gang with 'anti-religion, anti-government, anti-American, and/or anti nuclear interests, which may be affiliated with the uranium enrichment plant,'" he said.
Scott said according to the statements made in the Times article by Horner, "that I shouldn't have the right to voice my opinion, that I shouldn't have the right to be political, that I'm associated with all these criminals and drug dealers, and all this kind of stuff."
The first claim goes on to accuse Horner of making false and malicious statements which the suit says "reflect poorly upon the character and reputation of plaintiff and put the same in disrepute, all with the knowledge that the same are false."
The second claim is charges made by Horner concerning Scott, "constitutes defamation of the character of plaintiff."
The suit asks for compensatory and special damages in excess of $25,000, punitive damages in excess of $25,000, and reasonable attorney fees and costs and expenses.
Capt. David Thoroughman has been appointed interim police chief pending the outcome of the investigation.
FRANK LEWIS can be reached at (740) 353-3101, ext. 232.