Keep record of public servants on the books

Trumbull County Common Pleas Judge Peter Kontos recently ordered the criminal conviction records of former Warren police Officer Reuben Shaw to be sealed and expunged.

The 2014 misdemeanor conviction on charges of theft and falsification, dereliction of duty and criminal trespass, were committed while Shaw was serving as a Warren police officer and stemmed from moving a classic vehicle — a 1969 Chevrolet Nova — from a private residence to Shaw’s personal garage, all while the officer was on duty.

According to police and court records, Shaw had responded to a police call of reported trespassers at 2320 Kenwood Ave., SW, a property thought to be abandoned. During the call, Shaw came across the classic car and told other officers he would like to have a car like that to restore.

Records indicated that, while Shaw was still on duty, he and another person (not a police officer) came back to the property that day, entered the locked garage, called a local towing company and paid to have the car towed to Shaw’s private garage.

Following a lengthy investigation that had been turned over to the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation, Warren Police Chief Eric Merkel fired Shaw.

Shaw was eventually charged criminally and pleaded guilty, receiving a sentence of two years of probation, which was trimmed to just one year.

With the expungement, any record of those charges is now erased from the public eye.

Trumbull County Assistant Prosecutor Christopher Becker opposed the expungement, but only because of a procedural issue.

We oppose it because Shaw was on the public payroll — serving as a public servant — when the crime occurred.

In fact, we oppose expungements of criminal records of any public official or public employee who violates the public trust by committing crimes while on the public payroll.

In a separate court case last year, involving an expungement request for a criminal conviction involving a former Trumbull County elected official, Ohio attorney general’s office attorney Paul L. Scarsella had this to say: “An elected official who commits criminal acts while in office is of such importance that the state’s interest in maintaining those records far outweighs the interest of the defendant in having those records sealed.”

While that case was unrelated, the argument remains pertinent.

In many cases like this, attorneys and defendants tend to argue in favor of expungement with claims like they were first-time offenders, or they have stayed out of trouble since their convictions.

But we should always hold people who have violated the public trust to a much higher standard. Without a doubt, police officers, elected officials — or anyone who is being paid by taxpayers, for that matter — should know better from the beginning.

With an expunged record, nothing is standing in the way of any attempts to seek public employment again, or even public office in the future.

Any time a public employee or official commits a crime in public office, that crime doesn’t have just one victim. Rather, it has a rippling effect on thousands of victims. Those victims include every taxpayer he or she represented when the crime was committed.