By early last week, conflicting statements about the investigation into possible criminal misconduct by Akron Police Officer Donald Schismenos indicated an unfortunate development — progress had stalled. A spokeswoman for the Ohio attorney general’s office said a special prosecutor had closed the case in November. Akron Police Chief James Nice and a spokeswoman for the Summit County prosecutor’s office said the special prosecutor was still at work.
By week’s end, there was welcome news. Mike DeWine indicated that his office had at midweek launched an expanded criminal probe into Schismenos. The state attorney general said his office had completed in November what it then understood to be its role in the case. Charges were taken to a Summit County grand jury, which declined to issue an indictment.
What happened between early November and mid-March, a delay of more than four months? The answer appears to involve confusion over the status of a probe by the U.S. attorney’s office. Nice said federal authorities did take a look at Schismenos, but late last year, declined to prosecute. At the same time, early last week, DeWine’s office reiterated its job was done and pointed to a federal investigation into possible civil rights violations.
What’s most important now is to regain the momentum. Schismenos, a department leader in citizen complaints and use-of-force investigations, has been on paid leave for most of the past 19 months, collecting more than $83,000. During that time, he was suspended for 45 days over confronting, against orders, a woman who was videotaping him as he made an arrest.
No one involved in the case will characterize the exact nature of the matters now being examined. After an initial internal affairs investigation, Nice regarded the findings as so complex, and potentially involving conflicts of interest within the department, that he called on the state attorney general. Paul Hlynsky, the police union president, has said the investigation involves documents related to Schismenos’ computer.
The case now must be brought to a close as quickly as possible, with careful attention to the required levels of cooperation and communication among offices. Schismenos has been an embarrassment to the department and the city, his months on paid leave adding to the aggravation.