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Warren officer Noah Linnen fired, charged

Faces one misdemeanor, three felonies for allegedly fabricating shooting story

Staff photo / R. Michael Semple Warren police officer Noah Linnen, 23, right, sits quietly after being arraigned Wednesday morning before Trumbull County Common Pleas Judge Ronald Rice.

HOWLAND — Lies that a Warren police officer told led to the detainment of three innocent black men for a “significant amount of time” as other police officers searched for a man the officer told investigators shot at him on Jan. 13.

That officer, Noah Linnen, 23, was fired by the Warren Police Department on Wednesday. Linnen, who did not appear at a pre-disciplinary hearing scheduled for 4 p.m. Wednesday, was fired by Warren police Chief Eric Merkel.

“Your criminal acts, dishonesty, lack of integrity and total disregard for the implication of your actions clearly prove that you do not subscribe to the morals, values and mission of the Warren Police Department,” Merkel wrote in Linnen’s disciplinary letter. “Your description subjected every black male in the entire Trumbull County area, especially in the near vicinity, to the torment of being accused of shooting a police officer.

“Your description perpetuated a stereotype that black males make more credible suspects,” Merkel continued. “You sparked an emotion throughout the black community that widens the gap of police-community relations.

“I will not allow one officer’s actions to tarnish the relationship we have built with our community,” Merkel stated.

Linnen told four different versions of an incident that led to at least 50 different law enforcement officers from 10 agencies combing the streets for a black male in a black SUV that shot at him during a robbery.

However, in the last version that was detailed in an affidavit, Linnen stated he attempted to shoot himself in the shoulder and fabricated a detailed description of a black man and a robbery attempt in order to hide the fact that he fired his service weapon, the affidavit states.

After pleading not guilty Wednesday to tampering with evidence, inducing panic, disrupting public services and falsification before Trumbull County Common Pleas Judge Ronald Rice, Linnen was released from the Trumbull County Jail on a $10,000 cash or surety bond. He is scheduled to appear Feb. 20 before Judge Rice for a pretrial hearing. All but the last charge are felonies, according to the affidavit.

Defense attorney Bob Kokor is representing Linnen and declined to comment on the case.

STORIES

Linnen was off duty around 5:30 p.m. Jan. 13. He first told Howland police he stopped to help a driver of a black SUV that appeared to be broken down, when the man pulled a “silver revolver with a black handle” who asked Linnen if he was a police officer, before demanding his gun and money.

Linnen claimed he distracted the black male by throwing his police shield on the ground, according to the affidavit. The two exchanged fire, Linnen claimed.

The suspect, as described in the affidavit, was a “black male, approximately 6 feet tall in his 30s with a thin build. He was described as wearing a black hoodie with the hood up, partially obstructing his face and gray T-shirt pulled up over the lower half of his face like a mask.

He was wearing “dark -colored gloves and athletic shoes” and “had a high-pitched voice,” according to the affidavit.

Despite the seemingly thorough description, officers found “several inconsistencies” when they spoke to witnesses who responded to the scene, the affidavit states.

But, at the time of the initial call, officers who responded to the scene stopped black SUVs and three black men were stopped and detained by Howland and Niles police “for a significant period of time until it was determined that they were not involved in the incident,” the affidavit states.

Not only did Linnen “mislead” officers, he “fabricated” a crime scene, and “wrongfully describing and accusing a black person by physical description was an attempt to corrupt the outcome of their investigation and led to innocent persons being detained by police,” the affidavit states.

Questions have been raised by local civil rights leaders about the dangers black men who might have fit the description were put in that evening as dozens of police officers descended on the area.

After being presented video evidence that there was no black SUV in the area at the time, Linnen first stuck to his story, claiming he may have given inconsistent statements because of the stress he was under, the affidavit states.

The cameras were located on four different businesses and homes around Pine Avenue between Burton and DeForest Road, according to Howland police Chief Nick Roberts.

As the interview progressed, Linnen changed his story and reported the “suspect” was on a bicycle and fled on foot, but no bicycle was found at the scene, the affidavit states.

In the final version of the story listed in the affidavit, Linnen told Howland detectives Jeff Edmundson and Sean Stephens there was no robbery, and he fired his police-issued revolver through his car three times at a passing vehicle with bright headlights that appeared to be driving toward his vehicle, which was parked on the side of the road.

He could offer no description of the vehicle he claims he shot at, according to the affidavit.

Linnen’s latest claim is that he used his backup weapon and fired it toward himself after firing at the vehicle, as he developed the story to explain why he shot his gun, the affidavit states. One bullet ripped his jacket, but did not wound Linnen.

APOLOGY

At a press conference Wednesday, Roberts said approximately 45 officers from 10 different agencies, including members of the Ohio Attorney General’s Bureau of Criminal Investigation and the FBI, converged on the areas around Warren, Howland and Niles.

On the night of the incident, law enforcement officers stopped numerous black SUVs with black male occupants.

“It is very disheartening,” Roberts said. “We take an oath to serve and protect. When we get a rogue police officer who makes poor decisions, that tarnishes all police officers.

“We apologize for any inconvenience that was caused to any residents of Howland, of Warren and Niles who were stopped,” Roberts said. “Unfortunately, we all will be blamed (by some in the community) with the same broad brush.”

ONGOING INVESTIGATION

Roberts said the investigation is not completed.

“We are in the center of it,” he said. “There is no evidence that there was someone else, other than Noah Linnen’s vehicle.”

Warren police Chief Eric Merkel on Wednesday said it was apparent on Jan. 13 that Linnen’s story was not adding up, but they had to wait for the investigation done by the Howland Police Department and BCI to go forward.

Merkel said he is angry and upset.

“It’s outrageous; make no bones about that,” Merkel said.

Merkel said Linnen, like all patrolman candidates, went through a series of psychological and polygraph testing, background checks, and financial reviews. Linnen was interviewed by the police command staff, the safety service director and himself before he was hired.

Merkel said the department has an early intervention system that tracks officers’ behaviors, so they can track if there are problems.

“He has had no public complaints,” Merkel said. “There was no reason to suspect this would happen. This is the type of situation that you can’t predict.”

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