By JOY BROWN
The City of Findlay last month settled out-of-court a civil rights lawsuit stemming from a police officer’s misconduct during a routine call in 2012.
The city agreed to pay $15,000 to Carla Reeg, said city Law Director Don Rasmussen.
The city also paid $5,517 in attorney fees. It hired defense lawyers from the Toledo firm Spengler Nathanson.
Reeg sued the city because of former Officer Shawn Nungester’s actions and behavior when he came to her residence to help her then-roommate, Sue Johnson, move out.
Johnson had called police to request an officer’s presence, which is not unheard of during acrimonious moving situations.
Nungester allegedly threatened to break Reeg’s door down when she didn’t answer it, shoved her out of the way when he entered the house, and allowed Johnson and her friends and family to rifle the house.
Reeg characterized it as a “melee.”
Johnson was accused of ripping a shelf off a wall, and the group, including Nungester, was accused of leaving Popsicle sticks and cigarette butts in the yard.
Nungester also reportedly refused to return to Reeg a set of house keys, telling her she’d have to change the locks.
An internal Police Department investigation found Nungester guilty of conduct unbecoming an officer and improper conduct toward the public.
“He also appears to be in violation of the department’s code of ethics,” Chief Greg Horne determined.
During the investigation, Nungester admitted to providing his collapsible baton so that Johnson could use it to break the door.
“I informed her she had every right to break into her residence,” he told superiors.
The department’s policy in such situations recommends that officers tell each party involved to contact their attorneys and get a court order for recovering possessions.
Nungester and his union representative at the time, Officer Dan Harmon, justified the response by claiming Nungester had not been properly trained in how to handle peace officer calls.
But Nungester had worked for the department for a decade, and had been a field training officer. “I do not believe he lacked either training or experience in how to handle a civil dispute between two parties,” Horne concluded.
“The fact that no (incident) report was generated also gives the appearance that he was doing a personal favor for a longtime friend,” Horne wrote.
Police interviews conducted with Johnson show she knew Nungester.
Nungester resigned in November 2012. He never served 10 days of unpaid suspension that Horne ordered.
His only other disciplinary matters with the department were in 2009, when he was issued two oral reprimands regarding sick time used, and “being AWOL for an off-duty job,” Sgt. Michael Swope noted during his investigation.
Reeg, a former Hancock County Sheriff’s Office dispatcher, sued the city and Nungester a year after the incident. The case went to federal court.
“The officer didn’t handle the situation the way he was trained for a peace call. I think he (Nungester) let whatever friendship he had with her (Johnson) influence his behavior,” Rasmussen said. “He wanted to help his friend, but Carla Reeg didn’t want them in the house.”
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EDITOR’S NOTE: This is a corrected version of this story.