Sheriff, Police Being Sued over Bungled Dickinson Arson Case

The newly elected Stark County Sheriff, along with two Dickinson Police Officers and the City of Dickinson, are being sued by a former parochial High School Principal over their handling of an arson investigation  stemming from a March 2014 fire at the school.

Former Dickinson Trinity Principal Thomas Sander filed suit in federal court today against the city as well as Sheriff Terry Oestreich and police officers Jeremy Moser and Kylan Klauser, alleging they violated his civil rights during their investigation of Sander.  Oestreich is a former Dickinson Police Department detective and led the arson investigation. He was elected Sheriff in November of 2014.

A federal court document says Sander maintained his innocence until he falsely confessed to the crime after being deprived of sleep, intimidated, bullied and not allowed to speak to an attorney when he requested one among other things

Sander’s case was dismissed when it was discovered he had not been advised of his rights prior to questioning.

This case has been covered on SAB before, specifically as a reminder to all citizens of the importance of knowing, and then asserting, your rights. We will never know for sure (thanks to how poorly law enforcement handled the investigation of this case) whether Sander really is guilty or innocent of setting fire to Dickinson Trinity High School.  If he truly was guilty, he walked thanks to the inept manner in which the case was handled. If he really is innocent, he has still been found guilty in the court of public opinion. His name and reputation are ruined — these things are important to us all, but especially to someone in the field of education.

For all intents and purposes, however, the man is innocent. We have no choice to consider him anything but that. More importantly, his rights were violated, and the judge did the right thing by protecting Sander’s rights regardless of his guilt or innocence in the matter. Our rights exist all the time and for all citizens (whether they are guilty of a crime or not). The Constitution is not a statement of what is given us by the government, but rather is an assertion of what is already rightfully ours by birthright, and what the government exists to protect on our behalf. That protection comes in many forms, and in Sander’s case it was in the form of a Judge who saw that his rights were violated by the police in their zeal to close a tragic case.

[mks_pullquote align=”right” width=”300″ size=”24″ bg_color=”#000000″ txt_color=”#ffffff”]One civil liberties violation is one too many. It should not be brushed under the rug, even if the one whose rights were violated eventually walks free. These three cops are probably very good at their jobs, and likely do get it right 99.9% of the time. But, that isn’t good enough. We trust them with too much not to be 100% right, especially when it comes to investigating the guilt or innocence of a citizen.[/mks_pullquote]Law enforcement has been under a 10,000,000 watt spotlight of late. I don’t think a lot of what they are being accused of has a lot of merit. They have a challenging job, and for the most part most of them do it well. But it only takes one cop out of likely millions in the nation to give the profession a black eye. In this case, it doesn’t look real good for three from a relatively small community. It is not fair, but it is reality. Frankly, I would rather we have very high expectations of law enforcement than accept a standard that “they get it right … most the time”.

One civil liberties violation is one too many. It should not be brushed under the rug, even if the one whose rights were violated eventually walks free.  These three cops are probably very good at their jobs, and likely do get it right 99.9% of the time.

But, that isn’t good enough.

We trust them with too much for them not to be 100% right, especially when it comes to investigating the guilt or innocence of a citizen.  They likely felt, in their professional judgement, Sander was guilty. They don’t get to decide that though, and whether they were right or wrong about their hunch, abusing their power to ensure those hunches convert to a conviction is an outright and inexcusable abuse of power. There simply is no good reason that can ever justify that.

Unfortunately,  the tragedy will continue with this filing. Three probably very good cops will have their reputations impacted. Their counterparts, their departments, and the law enforcement profession as a whole will suffer another black eye. Sander will have to relive his experiences, as will the Dickinson Trinity community and the city as a whole. Worse, if Sander’s suit is successful, the taxpayers will pay the price for any reparations due to him.

But, the lawsuit is a necessary tragedy, which hopefully will avert future violations of civil rights regardless of how the case is settled.

Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com, a columnist for the Forum News Service, and host of the Plain Talk Podcast which you can subscribe to by clicking here.

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