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Leave no stone unturned in Liberty probe

We, like many in the Mahoning Valley and especially residents of Liberty Township, are wondering how this ever was able to happen.

We are speaking, of course, about the allegations of ongoing drug activity at a Liberty Township fire station, the overdose death of a firefighter and then the May 20 forced removal of three firefighters and demotion of another.

According to documents compiled after a Liberty Township police investigation, Lt. Josh Cleland, Lt. Justin Graham and Capt. Chris Olson were found to be in violation of several Liberty Township Fire Department policies and Ohio laws. They were discharged from their positions.

Liberty Township trustees recently accepted the resignations of the two lieutenants and the retirement of Olson. Trustees also demoted Capt. Inspector Cathy Macchione to captain and placed her on administrative leave.

A fifth Liberty Township firefighter and paramedic, John Beard, died after a drug overdose at his McDonald home April 12. It was Beard’s death that triggered the investigation that led to the allegations of an ongoing prescription-drug ring involving fire department personnel.

As of this writing, no one has been charged criminally, but the investigation is ongoing. Sources have reported that law enforcement authorities executed a search warrant at the Vienna Township home of former Lt. Cleland one day after his resignation.

According to documents released to this newspaper after our reporter made a public record request to the Liberty Township law director, text messages obtained from Beard’s iPad following his death revealed alleged drug trade among firefighters and attempts to conceal the illicit activities by masking the drugs’ common names with slang terminology.

Perhaps most egregious were attempts to conspire to cover up Beard’s overdose and poor decisions by Olson that involved allowing Beard to drive his vehicle after being discharged from the hospital and then to leave him alone at home while he was vomiting, despite direction from the hospital physician to not leave him unattended for 24 hours. Beard died that night.

The alleged lawless actions and disregard for human safety is no less than appalling. Equally appalling is that, if proven to be true, these Liberty first responders somehow were able to continue these alleged actions unfettered for so long.

The investigative documents released by Liberty Township officials indicate the firefighters worked together on the same shift at the same fire station, apparently with meager oversight that apparently permitted reckless attitudes to become the accepted culture.

We are disappointed that these actions now reflect a negative light on every Liberty firefighter — even those who were doing their jobs well, or those who had no dealings or no knowledge of these ongoing, improper actions.

We are pleased to see the prompt investigation and swift action taken by Liberty trustees to remove three firefighters and demote the fourth. We urge them to continue the investigation, both administratively and criminally, until there is complete resolution, with no questions left unanswered — no matter how far-reaching.

Residents deserve to know who was involved, who knew what and for how long. If it comes to light that others were aware of this situation, equally swift action must be taken against them as well.

Indeed, these allegations are an embarrassment to the department and to Liberty Township. The best way to overcome that is only to handle it quickly and then to ensure future exemplary oversight that never allows such lawlessness and reckless attitudes to become the culture there again.

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