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Liberty firefighters implicated in drug ring

LIBERTY – Liberty trustees dismissed two fire lieutenants and accepted the retirement of one fire captain after an Liberty police investigation revealed the trading of prescription drugs among department members and possible malfeasance involving the April 12 death of Beard.

The terminations came Wednesday, and this morning township law director Cherry Poteet said the investigation has been turned over to the Mahoning Valley Drug Task Forces for possible criminal charges.

Lts. Justin Graham and Josh Cleland were dismissed, while Capt. Chris Olsen was allowed to retire, trustees said.

Liberty Township Trustees Devon Stanley and Arnie Clebone this morning expressed disappointment over the behavior of three firefighters no longer on the job over drug-related allegations and the death of another firefighter John Beard.

“It’s extremely disappointing and unfortunate. They were a main part of our leadership structure at the fire department,” Stanley said.

Stanley, a first-term trustee said he didn’t know the firefighters involved well yet, but the investigation indicates “we have – perhaps at least on that shift – a culture of poor behavior, poor decision making, and poor judgment.”

“And the circumstances that led to us finding out about it were even more unfortunate. There was a loss of life in Mr. Beard. He was one of our firemen. And for his family, I feel like we had a duty to follow the facts wherever they led. Unfortunately the facts led what seemed to be some systemic bad behavior.”

Neither Stanley or Clebone stated directly that Chief Gus Birch may face disciplinary action over the matter, but Stanley raised the possibility. Stanley said the firefighters worked at the Belmont Avenue fire station near Tibbetts Wick Road together on the same shift and may have “found a way to become on the same shift.”

Stanley said it appears that most of the drug behavior occurred at the Belmont Avenue station.

“We were able to put these people on administrative leave, and if they didn’t resign, we told them they would be fired. I’m proud we were able to resolve the situation,” Clebone said.

Clebone went to the fire station Wednesday and talked to the personnel.

“I have confidence in the ones that are there. They have taken control, and we’re hopeful and confident they are going to be able to do a good job for us. We are looking to see what their plan is going forward so this kind of situation doesn’t happen again,” he said.

When asked whether there might have been others besides the four, Clebone referred to the further investigation. “We are going to make sure there is nothing else going on,” he said.

“There was drug testing going on, but it appears it has to be more rigorous and more regular,” Clebone said.

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