A Genoa police officer suspended for arranging restitution in a stolen bicycle case involving a mentally-challenged resident should be lauded not punished, his lawyer said Monday.
“He should be commended for what he did – not chastised. He was helping that girl that lost the use of this bicycle,” attorney Tom Tomczak said regarding his client, Police Sgt. Todd Mocniak.
The sergeant served a three-day suspension without pay following a Feb. 23 hearing with Genoa Mayor Mark Williams in connection with the fall 2009 theft investigation. He was scheduled to return to work Wednesday.
Williams, who also serves as the village’s safety director, determined Mocniak had violated a police manual policy regarding “abuse of position.”
“We basically do our best to ensure all employees adhere to the policy of the department. The appropriate steps were taken and we hope it never happens again,” Genoa Police Chief Randy Hill said last week after the decision.
Tomczak, however, described the hearing as unfair from the outset.
“It was set up when we got there,” Tomczak said, claiming the mayor’s manner showed he already had his mind made up beforehand. “He took a very prosecutorial attitude from the beginning. I am very upset with the mayor.”
The mayor, who taped the hearing, said he listened to the testimony and then rendered a decision. An officer exchanging money or property for restitution violates department policy, period, he said.
Mocniak is a nine-year veteran of the village police department. He served as acting chief prior to Hill’s hiring.
Village officials say Mocniak violated policy 2.13 regarding abuse of position by attempting to negotiate payment of cash or property for a department case.
Monika’s reprimand stems from the August 2009 theft of a purple and white Schwinn bicycle left unattended outside of Miller’s New Market.
The bike belonged to Genoa resident Emily Kehlmeier, 30. Kehlmeier has Down’s syndrome and used the bicycle for transportation around the village. She is a bagger at the market and helps people take groceries to their vehicles.
On Sept. 24, a farmer found a bike leaning against a telephone pole near a field about four miles from where it had been stolen. He called the Ottawa County Sheriff’s Office. The responding deputy was
Chad Millner, the former police chief of Genoa, who recognized the bicycle as Kehlmeier’s property. She was brought to the site to identify the bike, according to sheriff’s office records.
Millner’s investigation determined a migrant worker had been using bike to travel to and from his job. He allegedly got the bike from another person who was most likely no longer in the area, according to reports.
The case was then turned over to Genoa police. During the course of that investigation, Mocniak talked to two suspects – a man and a woman - about making restitution to avoid charges, police department records show. A family member had suggested the restitution, the mayor said.
“A decision was made in the field that shouldn’t have been … The person was not arrested and there was never any money collected from an individual,” the mayor explained.
However, police department records show Mocniak, who had also talked to Millner about the case, negotiated a deal for a $100 payment from the woman and $200 from the man. The woman brought a $100 money order to the police station. Mocniak gave to the victim’s family, reports show.
Williams stressed the issue did not surface because of any complaint filed. The police chief found mention of the restitution in Mocniak’s report and brought it to his attention, Williams said.
Yet records also show that Hill called Mocniak Sept. 30 on his cell phone when the $100 money order was brought to the police station, inquiring about the money order itself. Mocniak told the chief about the deal and asked him to leave the money order on his desk, which the chief did, according to the report.
Red tape in county and state offices resulted in the village holding the hearing nearly five months after the incident occurred, Hill said.
For Kehlmeier, the incident had another happy ending besides the recovery of her bike. Deputy Millner contacted Genoa Ford owner Terry Paul, who agreed to fix up the bicycle that was in bad shape.
She was presented the newly-restored bike in January.