Perrysburg, OH – A city councilman has called for the City of Perrysburg’s police chief to be charged with dereliction of duty, after dashcam video showed him order his officers back to their cars at an August officer-involved shooting scene.
“Chief Paez ordered his officers to stand down as the shots were being fired and the suspect was taking hostages,” Perrysburg City Councilman Haraz Ghanbari told Blue Lives Matter.
Video and audio from the scene appears to show that Chief Daniel Paez violated the mutual aid agreement between Perrysburg City and Perrysburg Township.
“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.”
Dereliction of duty by a member of law enforcement is a crime in the state of Ohio.
But Perrysburg Mayor Tom Mackin said he doesn’t believe Ghanbari’s allegations.
“The facts that have been presented initially, we believe are not accurate. So we’re going to sort through the facts,” Mackin told Blue Lives Matter.
Blue Lives Matter obtained copies of dashcam videos, phone call recordings between Perrysburg City and Perrysburg Township dispatchers, police radio traffic, and fire radio traffic during the incident, and that evidence fully supports the accusations being made by the city councilman.
The incident in question 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 steering 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 Perrysburg Township police apprehended Scarrow 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 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 an elderly man who was mowing the lawn and his adult grandson.
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,” 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.
“Eighteen to all units, if we get a call for mutual aid, we’ll assist. But until then, stay in the city,” a Perrysburg City officer relayed over the radio at the behest of the chief more than a minute after the Perrysburg City dispatcher had advised that they had shots fired and a hostage situation at the scene.
A few seconds later the Perrysburg City dispatcher reiterated the call for mutual aid from Perrysburg Township, and Perrysburg City officers who were still nearby responded immediately.
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.
The video showed that Officer Lepkowski jumped out of his patrol vehicle when he arrived and went to ask how he could help.
“What do you guys need? Anything?” he asked, approaching Perrysburg Township Police Detective Scott Moskowitz, Ohio State Highway Patrol Trooper Tony Shirley, and Lt. Gazarek.
“Honestly, if you guys could go back there and get our guys who shot him out of there, that would be fabulous,” Det. Moskowitz told Officer Lepkowski, sounding grateful.
“Okay, Alright. Gotcha,” the officer responded and rushed across the street to assist the Perrysburg Township officers who were trying to secure the scene.
The video showed he gestured for Officer Chalfant to join him at the scene across the street.
It is standard protocol for officers who have been involved in a shooting to be walked off the scene after the incident occurred; however, without the additional support of the Perrysburg City officers, there were not enough Perrysburg Township officers on hand to secure the crime scene.
City of Perrysburg Officers Doug Cunningham and Ryan Merrow arrived on the scene a minute later, and joined Officers Lepkowski and Chalfant in securing the scene.
According to Yvonne Trevino, attorney for the Ohio Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association (OPBA), Officer Merrow assisted the medics in removing equipment from their rig, and then was tasked with standing over the suspect’s gun to make sure it was not moved or touched before it was secured by detectives.
Trevino told Blue Lives Matter in an email that Officers Cunningham and Chalfant remained “near the scene with paramedics to ensure others would not enter the area.”
Sources said that one of the City officers had assisted the medics by holding an IV bag as they performed CPR, but Blue Lives Matter was unable to confirm that account.
Dashcam video recordings indicated Officer Lepkowski secured the perimeter of the scene with tape during this time, although he cannot be seen in the video.
Shortly thereafter, Chief Paez arrived near the scene. Dashcam video from Officers Cunningham and Merrow showed the chief never actually went past their vehicles, which were parked more than 30 yards away from where the action was taking place.
Dashcam showed that Chief Paez stopped and chatted briefly with Wood County Sheriff Mark Wasylyshyn. As they were talking, the chief of the City of Perrysburg Fire Department arrived.
Chief Paez walked as far as the front of Officer Cunningham’s police vehicle with the fire chief, and 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.
At that point, the fire chief continued walking to the actual scene and the police chief remained behind.
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.
The dashcam video from Officer Cunningham’s car showed Officer Lepkowski was the first to depart the scene. He stopped and talked to the chief as he was leaving but Officer Cunningham’s car did not record the audio of the exchange.
Officer Lepkowski’s lights were still flashing on his vehicle, which indicates his dashcam video and body microphone were still rolling during the exchange. However, the released dashcam video is missing a 20-minute period during which the officer was talking to the chief.
Next, the video showed Officers Cunningham and Merrow returning to their vehicles.
“Go back to the office and wait for me,” he ordered them as the other men looked on. “You, too! Back to the office.”
Officer Chalfant returned to his vehicle and got Lt. Gazarek and Perrysburg Township Chief Mark Hetrick’s attention as they were walking by, the video showed.
“Hey Matt. Hey Chief. Our chief’s calling us off. Your female officer back there is by herself," he told them.
"What?" one of the men asked.
"She’s back there by herself with the medic. ” Officer Chalfant explained. Their responses cannot be heard.
“Yeah, let me know if you guys have an opening, I might need it,” the officer joked on the video, but he sounded serious.
“Make a bad day stop,” Officer Chalfant muttered as he started to make a three point turn to leave the scene.
The dashcam videos in the police vehicles showed the City of Perrysburg chief never checked in with the Township's incident commander at any point after he arrived or before he left.
When he was questioned on his decision to make his officers stand down, Chief Paez defended his actions, and said he had made the decision for safety reasons because the officers on the scene 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. "It was out of fear that we had some inexperienced officers that were on the inner perimeter of that crime scene.”
But 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.”
Ghanbari provided Blue Lives Matter with an email he had submitted to the city council that demonstrated this wasn’t the first time Chief Paez denied mutual aid to nearby law enforcement.
The email, from a Perrysburg Township dispatcher to Lt. Gazarek and Chief Hetrick, was sent on July 7 and carried the subject “Agency Assist.”
“Chief and LT., You are going to love this one,” wrote dispatcher Michael Thompson.
“[Ohio State Highway Patrol] Post called on Saturday morning looking for an officer to assist and check up on one of their units 75 [northbound] at [mile marker] 195. No problem, right?” the message continued.
“They called us after first calling City of Perrysburg and the OSP was told that is ‘a little out of their area.’ UNBELIEVABLE!!!” the dispatcher wrote.
The mayor sent the city council a letter on Oct. 2 that reiterated his support for Chief Paez and announced that he had asked the nearby Lucas County Sheriff’s Office to investigate what happened to the Perrysburg response at the August shooting scene.
But Ghanbari wasn’t satisfied with Mackin’s proposed solution, and has repeatedly called for the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation to be brought in to investigate the chief’s actions.
He said that a number of potential conflicts of interest exist between the mayor’s administration, the city council, and Lucas County, and that in order to be sure of an “independent” investigation, the state needed to step in.
Ghanbari said the mayor’s handing of the incident leaves him questioning whether the Perrysburg PD will be able to respond to an emergency such as an active shooter in the City of Perrysburg or a nearby jurisdiction were it to happen tomorrow.
Chief Paez told Blue Lives Matter he was unable to give a comment for this story due to the pending investigation.
Watch the chief order his officers to stand down at a shooting scene in the video below: