Sunday, September 21, 2003

Policeman accused of church break-in

The Associated Press

MASSILLON, Ohio - A police officer described as religious by co-workers has been charged in a church break-in after a security videotape showed a uniformed officer kicking in doors leading to the church office.

Police Chief Mark D. Weldon said detectives identified 11-year Officer Michael J. Flara after reviewing the tape provided by church officials. He was arrested at his home Thursday night, his day off, and investigators said he acknowledged the break-in.

Flara pleaded not guilty to a misdemeanor theft plea on Friday in Massillon Municipal Court. He didn't enter pleas to felony charges accusing him of breaking into and vandalizing Central Presbyterian Church.

The chief said Flara told detectives he entered the church looking for money but didn't take anything.

"He's having some personal problems at this time and he needed money," Weldon said. The chief would not elaborate on what those problems are.

Flara is on unpaid leave pending the outcome of the case.

Someone entered the church through an unlocked basement window about 1:30 a.m. Thursday.

"There's a whole gamut of emotion here: stunned, shocked," Weldon said. "We just can't quite understand it."

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