Race relations should not be hurt by incident

Claims that investigators now say were fabricated by an off-duty Warren police officer stating that he was shot at by an unknown black male last week are an embarrassment to our community and to the hard-working Warren city police officers whose focus is only to uphold the law and maintain the peace.

Officers called to investigate those claims from two-year Officer Noah Linnen, 23, quickly became suspicious of the allegations that were changing repeatedly and just weren’t adding up. It was Jan. 13 when Linnen, who was off duty, called for help after he claimed he was shot at. 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” and 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.

At first, Linnen offered a seemingly thorough description of the alleged assailant, and the nearly 50 officers who stormed the area began stopping vehicles and detaining men who matched the description.

Within the course of a week, investigators determined Linnen’s claims were fake. Linnen now has been charged criminally with three felonies and a misdemeanor, and he has been fired as a Warren police officer.

Warren police Chief Eric Merkel understandably was angry and succinct in verbalizing his thoughts about the incident, calling it “outrageous.”

In his termination letter to Linnen, Merkel said this: “Your description perpetuated a stereotype that black males make more credible suspects. 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 and city leaders reacted swiftly, and they are to be commended for their brisk response, so as not to allow this incident to fester in the community, and for their transparency.

Howland’s police Chief Nick Roberts also has apologized to those detained and questioned.

It is a horrible situation that certainly has painted police in a bad light.

It should not, however, allow us as a society to lose faith in our officers as a whole. We are pleased at the quick response and the professional way this matter is being handled.

We were pleased to see leaders in the local black community also step up with local police leaders last week to head off new challenges.

Among them was Warren Trumbull Urban League President Thomas Conley, who said this: “We are not going to go backward. I felt there was a need to talk on behalf of the police department. … This was totally unacceptable behavior by the officer.”

Still, Conley acknowledged he is grateful for the relationship that now exists between the city police department and the black community since the U.S. Department of Justice came into Warren and a consent decree was established. The city came from under that consent decree last year.

We agree, and hope this incident does not stain that hard work and progress.

The fact is, unfortunately, bad seeds exist in all professions. The acts allegedly carried out by one officer must not be allowed to paint the entire department or profession in a negative light.

The progress we have made in improving race relations must continue; it must not be stalled or reversed because of the actions of one.