Saturday, April 07, 2001

Once-fired cop might move up

Hill qualifies for sergeant on exam

By Jane Prendergast
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        A Cincinnati police officer the city tried to fire last year for his arrest of an Alzheimer's patient could soon be promoted.

        Officer Robert Hill finished 15th on the police division's recent exam for sergeants. Although the city is still looking to dismiss him, he could be supervising other officers within a year if enough retirements and other moves take place.

        “Unbelievable,” said City Councilman Pat DeWine. “We're not only putting cops who have no business wearing a uniform back on the street, now we're promoting them.”

        Officer Hill was fired last summer after his videotaped takedown of Robert Wittenberg, a 68-year-old man who wandered away from his Silverton home in September 1999. The man held a drill and a paint brush inside a United Dairy Farmers store in Madisonville.

        Chief Tom Streicher said Officer Hill's behavior was “completely inappropriate.”

        But an arbitrator saw it differently, saying a dispatcher was partly to blame for making it a “weapons run” in which people were being threatened. The four-year officer got his job back. Chief Streicher assigned him to the telephone crime reporting unit.

        Mr. Wittenberg wife, Mary, “was very disheartened when (Officer Hill) was placed back on the force,” said their attorney, Donald C. Moore Jr. “I know she will be equally disappointed when she finds this out.”

        Mr. Wittenberg, who suffered several broken bones, remains in a Loveland nursing home, he said, and is doing poorly. The couple has filed a lawsuit against the city and the officer.

        The arbitrator's ruling prompted some City Council members to express concern about the city's track record with officers who appeal their terminations.

        Since 1996, every one of the 10 fired police officers who followed through with arbitration was ordered rehired. Mr. DeWine and Councilman John Cranley have pushed to hire outside lawyers to, they hope, better represent the city in arbitrations.

        Mayor Charlie Luken called Officer Hill's possible promotion “unfortunate. This shows we have a serious problem getting rid of bad officers.”

        FOP President Keith Fangman disputes the notion that officers can't be fired, citing five convicted of felonies in the past four years who did not get their jobs back. They did not appeal their terminations to arbitration.

        Mr. Fangman also said it was unfair to link an officer's successful test score with council members' “bellyaching.”

        Officer Hill scored 89.36 on the test, making him 15th of 66 who passed. Twenty-three failed. Mr. Fangman said 18 to 20 officers are expected to be promoted to sergeant.

       Enquirer reporters Robert Anglen and Marie McCain contributed.


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