An Akron police captain was demoted and pulled off the streets following a five-month internal investigation that began with a traffic stop outside a McDonald’s in Ellet.

The probe focused on a search of a suspect’s mobile phone, a pornographic picture involving a woman and dog that was widely disseminated among police and the way a separate search was handled in an unrelated case where felony drug charges were later dropped.

The police department’s Office of Professional Standards and Accountability concluded then-Capt. Brian Simcox violated several departmental policies and potentially state law involving unauthorized searches, records show.

Police executives later met with the Summit County Prosecutor’s Office and it was determined nothing Simcox did was felonious criminal conduct. No charges were filed.

On Friday, responding to a Beacon Journal public information request, the city of Akron released more than 130 pages of documents detailing the probe into Simcox.

The documents focus on only two cases handled by Simcox, an officer known for his work busting methamphetamine labs who also commanded the department’s Gun Violence Reduction Team.

On Wednesday, Simcox signed a “memorandum of last chance” agreeing to be demoted to the rank of lieutenant to keep his job. Simcox will now spend his shifts inside, overseeing the police radio room.

Akron Police Chief Ken Ball signed disciplinary action chastising Simcox: “Your conduct reflects not only poor judgment, incompetency and unprofessionalism in the handling of the information … at a crime scene, but is completely outside of your duties as a law enforcement officer and supervisor and directly violates the proper handling of property and evidence recovered from a crime scene.”

Simcox could not be reached Friday.

His union president, Frank Williams, who leads the local Fraternal Order of Police, said Simcox had been an officer 21 years and, to his knowledge, this was the first time Simcox faced discipline.

“It’s unfortunate that city administration acted harshly with his demotion,” Williams said.

Investigation launched

Trouble for Simcox began shortly before 1 a.m. Sept. 9 when police stopped a woman sitting in a car at McDonald’s at 2021 E. Market St.

Police suspected the woman was there to buy drugs, records show.

During the stop, Simcox searched the woman’s phone without permission, snapped a photo of a pornographic picture he found with his own mobile phone and then shared it electronically and in person with fellow officers, an Akron firefighter, a tow truck driver and his own family, police said.

At least one person was offended and notified Akron police commanders, who triggered an internal investigation.

When investigators pulled Simcox’s mobile phone text records, they found the electronic trail of the pornographic picture.

Records show it began the day of the McDonald’s incident with Simcox sending a text that explained what happened, adding the woman they stopped “had no panties on and a mini skirt and kept spreading her legs in the back of our car.”

“I got into her phone to see who was bringing dope…found this picture!!!!”

Someone Simcox texted replied, asking why he went into the woman’s phone.

“She got a text about cops so we opened it,” Simcox texted back.

As the internal probe of the McDonald’s incident continued, police launched a second probe into an unrelated case involving Simcox. It also occurred during a traffic stop involving drugs in September, this time on Bank Street.

After talking to the driver, accompanied by other officers, Simcox went to a nearby storage building where he said there might have been drug sales and manufacturing. A man there initially allowed officers to look around.

But without permission or a warrant, Simcox entered a closed garage, police records show, that resulted in felony drug charges against a man. The charges were subsequently dropped.

Simcox would later tell investigators he saw a bucket with two Gatorade bottles, items he was familiar with from investigating methamphetamines. He said he wanted to make sure there wasn’t an active lab inside the garage.

Simcox told police investigators that he thought the search was probably legal at the time, but even if it wasn’t, he could work it out later in the courts.

If a prosecutor said, “Eh, don’t like this search,” Simcox told investigators, he would agree and they would offer a plea deal to the man charged.

The Office of Professional Standards and Accountability was not happy with Simcox’s answer.

Simcox “suggests that it is acceptable to sign felony drug possession warrants on an individual when you suspect that the legal grounds for discovering the evidence is in question,” the office said in a written report.

That could have ended in months of incarceration.

“A captain, who is a senior leader within the Akron Police Department, cannot have such a callous approach to the citizens of our community or be indifferent to the impartial administration of justice,” the report said.

The probe of Simcox marks the first high-profile internal police investigation relying, in part, on officer body cameras.

The city rolled out the cameras in September, the same month both incidents happened that landed Simcox in trouble.

In at least one of the cases investigated — the Bank Street drug case — the officers at Simcox’s side were wearing cameras.

The Beacon Journal has requested the videos.

Footage was not released Friday. A city spokeswoman said the videos had not yet been reviewed by the city’s law department.

Beacon Journal staff writer Brandon Bounds contributed to this report. Amanda Garrett can be reached at 330-996-3725 or agarrett@thebeaconjournal.com. Follow her on Twitter: @agarrettABJ.