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Liberty law director outlines violations that led to terminations, demotion

Following a Liberty Township Police investigation, the following violations were recorded leading to the removal of three Liberty Township firefighters and the demotion of a fourth.

The investigation was initiated April 14 by interim police Chief Toby Meloro and handled by Capt. Ray Buhala, Detective Sgt. Mike Shuster and Detective G.T. Bednar, following the April 12 death of Liberty firefighter / paramedic John Beard. According to documents provided Thursday to this newspaper, Meloro indicated Beard was taken April 11 unresponsive to St. Elizabeth Youngstown Hospital, believed to be from an overdose. Meloro believed members of the fire department knew about this, but did not report the event to township fire Chief Gus Birch. The investigation led to allegations of a prescription drug trading ring inside the Liberty Fire Department.

Documents provided Thursday to the newspaper by Liberty Township Law Director Cherry L. Poteet indicated the following administrative violations that led to the removal or demotion of the following fire department employees.

• Lt. Joshua Cleland — Found to be in violation of engaging in drug transactions while on duty; keeping a drug and alcohol free workplace; conformance to laws; professional conduct and safety. Cleland committed malfeasance by using drugs while on duty and by selling and distributing drugs to others while on duty. He committed nonfeasance as he was aware that other firefighters were using prescription drugs not prescribed to them and failing to notify his superior officers.

• Lt. Justin Graham — Found to be in violation of engaging in drug transactions while on duty; keeping a drug and alcohol free workplace; conformance to laws; member responsibilities; professional conduct and safety. Graham also made false statements to superior officers when he notified the on-duty captain that Beard had suffered a panic attack, even though he knew it was a heroin overdose and when he lied to the investigators saying he never suspected Beard of using drugs despite knowing that he was both using and trading prescription drugs at the station.

Graham also violated the department’s assault, courtesy-to-members and prohibited acts policy by urinating in Capt. Opsitnick’s teapot; the conformance-to-laws policy when he advised Beard to charge personal vehicle repair to the department’s account and the abuse-of-position policy when he advised Olson to wear his uniform to enter St. Elizabeth Youngstown Hospital despite COVID-19 policies.

Graham committed malfeasance by using drugs while on duty and by selling and distributing drugs to others while on duty, by driving a township ambulance while under the influence of drugs and nearly hitting a pedestrian earlier this year, by covering up and conspiring with Olson to cover up Beard’s drug use and then lying about it and for urinating in Captain Opsitnick’s teapot. He committed nonfeasance as he failed to report Beard’s overdose to a superior officer although he knew Beard was scheduled to work less than 10 hours after his overdose and when he failed to take action to prevent Beard from reporting to work.

• Capt. Chris Olson — Found to be in violation of abuse-of-position, when he wore his uniform while off duty to enter St. Elizabeth Youngstown Hospital despite COVID-19 policies; professional conduct, when he allowed Beard to drive home less than two hours after being revived from a drug overdose along with when he received prescription drugs from Beard that were not prescribed to him; dishonesty, when he lied to investigators about the drug use and Beard’s overdose; engaging in drug transactions; and the drug and alcohol free workplace, when he engaged in trading prescription drugs that were prescribed to him that affected his ability to perform his job without notifying the department as well as failing to take proper action with Beard’s overdose. Olson has committed malfeasance as he was involved in trading prescription drugs with fellow Liberty firefighters and by covering up and conspiring with Graham to cover up Beard’s drug use and committed nonfeasance by failing to report Beard’s overdose to the fire chief despite Beard being scheduled to work the next morning, by failing to take action to prevent Beard from reporting to work less than 10 hours after he overdosed on heroin and by failing to report the trading and abuse of prescription drugs among the firefighters to the fire chief. Because Olson, who knew about the trading and use of prescription drugs while on the job, despite denying these facts violated several department policies including safety, conformance to laws, professional conduct.

• Capt. Cathy Macchione — Demoted because she failed to “demonstrate the qualities necessary to be the Captain Inspector in the Liberty Township Fire Department” during a six-month probation period, according to a letter trustees sent to Macchione.

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