Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Police State

Police Chief Charles Horner

Dispatching Portsmouth

On June 20, 2004, the Columbus Dispatch published an investigative story by reporter Andy Ludlow on the Marting scandal. In that story, councilman Marty Mohr was quoted as saying the Marting building, which the city had paid $2 million dollars for, “ain’t worth anything.” The mastermind of the Marting deal, local lawyer Clayton Johnson was not quoted as saying anything, because he did not return The Dispatch reporter’s calls, nor did Robert Huff, head of the Chamber of Commerce. When the lights went on, these gentlemen, like certain household insects, scrambled for cover.

The Dispatch report on Marting’s was one of the reasons Mayor Bauer and two members of the Portsmouth City Council were recalled from office by irate voters. The Portsmouth Daily Times (PDT) could not have done this kind of investigative reporting because it operates under the thumb of the Portsmouth Chamber of Commerce and the Southern Ohio Growth Partnership. The Dispatch reported on the pressure that had been put on the PDT to follow the chamber of commerce’s political line. The Dispatch explained: “Some traditional advertisers did not buy ads in the special issue on development after the chamber [of commerce] called for a boycott of the edition, said Rick Greene, the newspaper’s managing editor.” Unlike the PDT, The Dispatch is not under the thumb of the Portsmouth Chamber of Commerce. The publication of The Dispatch story on the Marting deal helped publicize the scandal, and Bob Mollette and his wife Teresa, as irate as any Portsmouth voters, brought a suit that resulted in the ruling that the Marting sale was illegal.

Judge Marshall invalidated the Marting sale to the city because of the secret meetings in which that sale was hatched. Undeterred and brazen, city officials had tried to conduct city government in secret, as had been the case in the past. Through the courts and Judge Marshall's ruling, the Mollettes prevented them from doing so.

Fast forward two years. Now the Portsmouth City Council is up to its same dirty tricks, trying to foist the Marting building off on the city by means of a follow-up Rube Goldberg scam they have worked out with Clayton Johnson. But they have not succeeded yet. A referendum in May will put the fate of the Marting building up to the voters. The publication in 2004 of the Dispatch report on the Marting scandal awakened many Portsmouth voters, and the results of the May referendum should show whether or not those voters have gone back to sleep.

Portsmouth: Drug Pipeline

Now we have another Columbus Dispatch investigative story on a much worse Portsmouth problem – the rampant drug trafficking in our city. The January 22 front-page story was headlined, “Pipeline Down Rte. 23: Columbus’ crack trade takes root in Portsmouth.” In Ohio we have a deer hunting season that limits hunters to certain months of the year, but in Portsmouth there is, to use The Dispatch phrase, an “open season” for drug dealers, which lasts all year. President Bush said in his recent state-of-the-union address that the U.S. “was addicted to oil.” Portsmouth, which is addicted to crack – and pork – should be so lucky.

The Dispatch story has already had immediate political consequences. Who was damaged politically by it? The whole city government has been put on the defensive, but nobody has more to explain than the Portsmouth police chief, Charles Horner. To defend himself and the Portsmouth Police Department against the damaging implications of The Dispatch story, Horner addressed the city council in the conference session of the Jan. 23, 2006 council meeting. (Since the conference sessions of council meetings are not recorded in council minutes, I have relied on the audio recording of Horner’s remarks that are available on Teresa Mollette’s resourceful website.

Horner in a Corner

Because Horner has been police chief for the last four years, he has some explaining to do about why Portsmouth has become infamous as southern Ohio’s drug capital. Horner did not dispute that the city has a terrible drug problem. He told the council that Portsmouth is very high on the FBI’s national Crime Index. Horner could also have told the council that among other shameful distinctions, Portsmouth is one of only two Ohio cities that have made the list of the “Top 100 Least-Safe Cities in the U.S.A. The only other Ohio city in the Top 100 Least-Safe list is Akron.

But Horner insists Portsmouth’s high drug-crime rate is not his fault. Not by any means. He told the city council on Jan. 23 that he is proud of the many years he has served in the war against drugs. He claims he has not sat behind a desk: he has been in the trenches. If there were battle ribbons for this war, he implies he would be the most highly decorated cop in the county. Horner in his remarks to the city council was in effect telling himself, "You're doing a heck of a job, Chuckie." What he told the council, in his own words, was “I spent many a long night and many a long day away from my family to address the drug problem.” He boasted, “I will put my stats up against anybody in this county.”

What stats is he talking about? The stats that put Portsmouth high on the FBI's Crime Index? The stats that make Portsmouth one of the two most dangerous cities in Ohio? Even if stats exist for individual cops, what decorations do you deserve for being captain of a police force in a city that is one of the 100 most dangerous cities in the country and one of the two worst in the state? Portsmouth is making these shameful lists on Chief Horner’s watch.

Keystone Cops

There is a sign on the river side of the flood wall boasting of Portsmouth selection in 1979-1980 as an “All-American City.” Ironically, Akron (the other most dangerous Ohio city) was selected as an “All-American City” the following year. In 2006 the only sign Portsmouth deserves on the flood wall is “Portsmouth: Columbus' Drug Pipeline.” Because Portsmouth’s “war” on drugs has been so humiliatingly, so pathetically, so chronically unsuccessful, there is a comic quality to Horner’s extravagant claims for himself and the Drug Task Force. When it comes to fighting drugs, the Drug Task Force, under Horner’s command, has, sadly, become something of a FEMA, something of joke, a kind of Keystone Cops operation.

If Horner as a long-time drug cop and now police chief does not bear responsibility for Portsmouth’s reputation, then who is to blame? Why, his former nemesis, former mayor Greg Bauer. In his remarks to the city council, Horner said that soon after he became chief, “I attempted through the then-mayor [Bauer] to address the crime-drug issues facing the city.” Horner said he sought the aid of Portsmouth business people, but Bauer tied his hands. “Due to the intervention of the previous mayor,” Horner said, “my efforts failed.”

Why did Mayor Bauer (shown at left) prevent the chief from cracking down on narco-criminals? In his Jan. 23 remarks to the city council, Horner did not offer an explanation. However, it was rumored that Mayor Bauer abused drugs. Lee Scott told me in an interview in my 2004 DVD Recall of Mayor Bauer (available at the Portsmouth Public and SSU Clark Library) that Bauer’s drug use was “very well known in the city.” Although Horner had five criminal investigations of Mayor Bauer going at one time, he apparently did not investigate Bauer's drug activities, perhaps because it is unwise for those who live in glass houses to throw stones.

All in the Family

Because drug dealers are so pervasive, especially in Portsmouth, no family can completely protect their children against them. Drug abuse among all social classes is now the rule. Those of us lucky enough to have children who did not develop drug problems should count our blessings and not point fingers at parents who were not so lucky. Horner is one of those unlucky parents, for he has a son, David, who has a history of drug problems, and a conviction, Doug Deepe (John Welton) provided case numbers and background information on back in 2003.

So not only did we have a mayor reputed to be abusing drugs, we have the son of the police chief apparently selling them as well. But if it weren’t for the investigations by bloggers like Welton and Teresa Mollette, who would know? An online search of public records now will turn up nothing on David Horner, because on Nov. 6, 2002, he filed to have his criminal records expunged, and on Dec. 12, 2002, those records were expunged by order of Portsmouth Municipal Court Judge Richard T. Schisler.

A police chief who has a son dealing drugs has a potential conflict of interest – a conflict as a public law enforcer and as a father. John Welton accused Chief Horner not only of helping expunge his son’s drug arrests but also of arranging for the surveillance of a New Boston police officer who was investigating his son for drug dealing in New Boston. Horner told the city council that he did not want to "emotionalize" the drug issue. But that is exactly what he did when he accused bloggers of having "crucified" him and his family, by which he meant Welton's publicizing David Horner's drug arrest and Judge Schisler's subsequent expungement of that arrest and suspended sentence from public records.

It was rumored that Mayor Bauer was about to fire Horner, but before Bauer could fire him, Horner made charges against the mayor that led eventually to the mayor’s recall by the voters. Russell Cooper, claimed he was targeted by Horner because he attempted to recall councilman David Malone. The New Boston police officer who was investigating Horner's son claimed he was being set up by Horner. Lee Scott, who was a central leader of the recall of Mayor Bauer, has recently made a similar charge against Horner in a Jan. 21 letter, which he posted on Moe’s Forum.

Lee Scott Accuses Horner

Attention - Horner, Donnini, DEA & others.

Please stop sending drug dealers to me.... I am not a dealer and am not interested in buying the two pounds offered yesterday. It is just as illegal for you to try to sell drugs as it is for me to buy them. I am not interested in going back to prison and the next person you send (friend of mine or not), I will deal with them like I would any other piece of crap that is trying to harm me or mine and then-----IT IS YOUR TURN.

PLEASE - try and concentrate on the real problems (some are your very own) and leave me out of your setups with busted snitches----
Thank You----- LEE

Molletttes in Horner's Crosshairs

Bob and Teresa Mollette, active in the reform movement, also appear to be in Horner’s crosshairs. If Horner showed half as much determination to crack down on drug-dealers as he has on blogging citizens identified with the reform movement, then maybe the city’s reputation for crime and corruption would not be quite as bad as it is. Chief Horner and Mayor Kalb are determined to stifle the political reform movement in Portsmouth and to curb the Mollettes in particular from revealing the shenanigans of public officials on their websites. Bob Mollette's very professional and informative site is driving them crazy.

The mayor and the chief of police are doing everything they can to frustrate the Mollettes from bringing transparency and honesty to city government, and they are coordinating a public relations effort, with the complicity of the Portsmouth Daily Times, to discredit the Mollettes, the two citizens who are currently doing the most to reform our corrupt city government.

Mollettes' websites front-page news in Daily Times

The Portsmouth City Council is now trying to change the city charter to make it more difficult for voters to recall elected officials. This puts Horner and the current mayor in a very awkward position, because they would probably not be chief and mayor if Bauer had not been recalled. “I have seen the best of recalls and I have seen the worst of recalls,” Horner told the city council. The recall of Bauer, which saved Horner’s job and put Kalb in the mayor’s chair, was good, but the more recent attempts to recall other city officials are bad. Or so he implies.

Up to his eyeballs in city politics, in which he may one day drown, Horner has become the cheerleader as well as the tool of the current city administration because his continuing as chief of police, in the face of Portsmouth’s notoriety as a drug hotbed, depends upon the support of the city council and the mayor. If they will protect him and his job, he will protect theirs from recall. In an extraordinary statement to the city council, on Jan. 23, Horner claimed that those who have recently attempted to recall public officials are “domestic terrorists.”

Domestic Terrorists

In nothing has Horner and the police department been as diligent and thorough as in investigating what Horner characterized as an alleged “series of improprieties” in the recall petitions of reform candidate Russell Cooper a native America who was trying to mount a challenge to David Malone, the rubber-stamp councilman of Ward 2. Cooper’s purported improprieties received the kind of high priority, all court police press that in other cities might be used in the war against drug dealers. But in Portsmouth it is not narco-criminals but those who challenge the city government who are perceived as the most serious threat, who are denounced as “domestic terrorists.”

Teresa and Bob Mollette: Domestic Terrorists?

We have the example of the Bush administration playing the terrorist card to cover up its own corruption and incredible incompetence, so it should not come as a surprise to see the chief law officer of Portsmouth, a city awash in drugs and corruption, try the same desperate and irresponsible trick. With each passing week I am more and more struck by how political developments in Portsmouth resemble those in Washington, and I wonder how much longer the one and the other administration will be able to keep it up and how much further they will go in trying to stifle their critics. Corruption, incompetence, lies, surveillance, the erosion of civil liberties in the name of fighting terrorism – that unfortunately is the state of the union and the state of Portsmouth.