Akron Mayor Dan Horrigan publicly condemned former Police Chief James Nice at a news conference Monday but didn’t share many details about what prompted the chief’s abrupt departure.
Nice resigned Sunday at the request of the mayor, who had been informed over the weekend that the chief was engaging in a “pattern of things” — an inappropriate relationship with a subordinate officer, possibly meddling in his nephew’s criminal case of car theft and document forging, and making derogatory remarks about a fellow officer.
The derogatory comments made by Nice were racial and critical of the physical fitness of other officers, according to James Hardy, Horrigan’s chief of staff. Hardy declined, however, to reveal the target of Nice’s comments.
Other details of the alleged behavior are in short supply as Horrigan and his staff vow to protect the identity of the female officer Nice is accused of coercing into a relationship. County prosecutors are reviewing evidence of allegedly interfering in a felony investigation and will determine whether to bring criminal charges against Nice.
County officials have confirmed that they are “reviewing the chief’s matter,” but they’re not commenting.
Neither is Nice. Typically outspoken, he’s taking his attorney’s advice and keeping quiet.
The mayor couldn’t say at the news conference how long the chief may have engaged in an inappropriate relationship, but Nice’s demise unfolded fast.
Late Friday, the police department’s top officers, including Horrigan’s public safety director, Charles Brown, became aware of a casual conversation in which Nice is said to have disrespected a fellow officer. The mayor said he was briefed Saturday night on the comments, as well as the alleged relationship, which the city said Nice admitted to.
An ultimatum to resign or be fired was offered Sunday. Nice and Horrigan went back and forth by phone. By 4:16 p.m., the police chief resigned with a short letter to Brown, Horrigan and the city’s human resources director.
“Having served the fine citizens of Akron, Ohio for more than six years, I am moving on to my next venture in [life],” Nice wrote.
Less than an hour later, the city pushed a loosely detailed news release informing the media of the chief’s departure.
By then, Akron’s police captains had met privately to coordinate their response to the men and women in their command, to share through texts and phone calls the news that their boss was gone and, as much as they could, explain why.
Proud to serve
Attorney Mike Callahan, who is representing Nice, said Nice is proud to have served the city of Akron.
“The chief regrets any inappropriate comments or behavior but categorically denies any criminal conduct, and I will aggressively defend him,” said Callahan, who was retained by Nice over the weekend.
Callahan said he knows very little about the criminal case involving Nice’s nephew.
It’s unclear whether the chief steered detectives investigating his nephew’s alleged role in forging the title for a car authorities say was stolen. But that’s the accusation that led the city’s top officials to determine, in about 24 hours, that Nice also was engaging in other potentially unethical behavior.
“It was a pattern of a few things that had me request his resignation,” Horrigan said.
Callahan has informed his client not to talk to the media and suggested that he take a vacation. He said Nice, who was hired from outside the city in 2011 by then Mayor Don Plusquellic, had planned to finish the remaining 18 months of his contract.
“We’ll let the dust settle, and see where we go from here,” Callahan said.
Major Ken Ball — elevated for now from deputy chief to chief of police — praised the mayor for moving with “swift and appropriate action in this troubling” ordeal. He squarely blamed his former boss for dishonoring the uniform.
“I am angry at the circumstances that have brought us here today,” Ball told a row of cameras Monday in the police department’s roll call room. “It’s an embarrassment. It doesn’t meet the standards of the Akron Police Department. And unfortunately, this organization and members of its team will suffer.”
Ball’s photo has replaced Nice’s portrait on the city’s website, just above the police department principles and values — from honesty and integrity to trust and respect.
Frank Williams, president of the Akron police union, who could not be reached Sunday or Monday by phone, sent a comment via fax thanking the mayor for his swift action, reminding the public that Nice is not a member of the local Fraternal Order of Police and voicing confidence in working with Maj. Ball “to move forward from the shadow cast upon our department.”
The process of hiring a permanent chief is underway.
Police arrested Joseph Nice, the former chief’s nephew, in February for “theft by deception.”
The younger Nice, who said he worked at a car dealership on Waterloo Road until January of this year, was approached more than a year ago by a man looking to sell his BMW, according to an Akron police report.
Joseph Nice took the car but denies forging any title.
The BMW was transferred to another dealership in Bedford, and the original owner filed charges against Joseph Nice, police said in the report.
Summit County Common Pleas Judge Jason Wells will preside over a hearing on Sept. 7 to determine if Joseph Nice’s case will go to trial. The 47-year-old said he doesn’t think it will. He called the Akron Beacon Journal/Ohio.com to complain that other media outlets were falsely reporting that his uncle had tried to help him.
“To the contrary,” he said. “There was evidence in my case withheld by the Akron police department at the direction of my uncle … And obviously that will come out in the coming weeks.”
Joseph Nice said he would provide no more details until he consulted his attorney, Noah Munyer, who said former chief Nice’s involvement became such an issue in his client’s case that a trial scheduled for Aug. 14 trial had to be postponed.
On the day after the continuance, county prosecutors filed a motion to suppress any information about the case. The gag order is pending for the case that, until Monday, never caught the attention of the media.
Staff writer Theresa Cottom contributed to this report. Doug Livingston can be reached at 330-996-3792 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow on Twitter: @ABJDoug.