Marlboro Township Police Chief Ron Devies has asked the Canton-Stark County Crime Lab to box up and return evidence pending in all criminal cases so he can send it to the Bureau of Criminal Identification and Investigation. Devies says the lab’s new director is not qualified to hold the position.
One local police agency has asked the Canton-Stark County Crime Lab to return evidence from about a dozen criminal cases, claiming the lab’s new director is unqualified.
Marlboro Township will no longer use the facility and will rely on a state crime lab for its investigations due to the recent hiring of Rick Perez, a retired chief deputy at the Stark County Sheriff’s Office.
The Alliance Police Department also is considering switching to the Bureau of Criminal Identification and Investigation (BCI) in Richfield.
Marboro Chief Ron Devies sent a certified letter to the lab Friday after learning Perez had been hired. The city lowered the education qualifications for the director job and did not advertise the position. Perez has 37 years of experience in law enforcement, but does not have a college education.
“I have to question the political back-room antics that led to this new direction of ‘leadership’ and the qualifications the new ‘director’ has,” Devies wrote.. “The Marlboro Police Department wishes to have no part in this questionable decision stemming from the good ole boy networking of politics. I suspect whatever the reason was, ethics certainly was not a talking point.”
Devies discussed his plan with BCI officials Monday.
The crime lab is funded by the Stark Council of Governments, but Canton’s Safety Director Thomas Ream has hiring authority. The city funds half of the lab. Stark County contributes about 45 percent of the crime lab budget and all local governments share in the balance. Marlboro Township is among the smaller agencies that use the lab.
Ream has said that the city wanted someone to serve in a managerial role, rather than possess a scientific and technical background. Ream has defended the hiring by saying that the city and county are fortunate to have someone with Perez’s law enforcement experience.
SCOG’s executive committee will meet at 3:30 p.m. today in the Mayor’s Conference Room, Canton City Hall, 218 Cleveland Ave. SW, where it will discuss the hiring. Board members said last week they were not included in discussions about hiring Perez, who will make $70,848 annually.
Perez said Monday that Devies called last week to make the request and was told to put it in writing. Perez said he has yet to see the certified letter.
“As far as the analysts conducting the testing on his evidence, nothing has changed there,” he said. “That’s entirely up to him and his police department. That’s his right to do. I still feel this lab can conduct all the analysis this lab has in the past and there will be no problem at all.”
Perez said the move is not fair to the criminalists and lab technicians who work at the lab. Asked if Devies was treating him fairly, Perez responded, “That’s neither here nor there.”
Page 2 of 2 - SOUR GRAPES?
In January 2009, Devies was placed on paid leave after Stark County Sheriff’s staff confiscated computers from the Marlboro Township police station to investigate allegations of possible misuse. Perez was the investigator on the case. A Stark County Common Pleas Court judge dismissed criminal charges against Devies that May and he returned to work.
Former Sheriff Timothy Swanson, who retired with Perez last month before returning to serve a short stint as interim sheriff, said there’s a history of friction between the Marlboro Township police and the sheriff’s office. He said his office conducted a fair investigation of Devies.
“The issue with Ron Devies is just sour grapes,” Swanson said.
Devies acknowledged an “obvious” personal conflict with Perez.
“He’ll use the office to take on his own missions for people he doesn’t like,” Devies said. “I was innocent as the day is long. They started throwing plea bargains at me before the case was indicted, but I said I wanted my day in court.”
Devies said his history with Perez doesn’t influence how he feels about him serving as director.
“He’s just plain out unqualified,” Devies said.
ALLIANCE CONSIDERING MOVE
Alliance Police Chief Scott C. Griffith said his department has been considering moving evidence from the lab to BCI for about a month due to slow turnaround. He said some investigators have been waiting for fingerprint evidence to be analyzed for almost a year. Griffith said the department sends roughly 200 pieces of evidence to the lab each month.
Griffith said that under Attorney General Mike DeWine, BCI has maintained its quality of work, while “remarkably” reducing its turnaround time. He said the hiring of Perez at the Canton-Stark County Crime Lab could push him toward BCI.
“That’s one of our concerns,” he said, referring to Perez. “... It’s still a very new change so I can’t speak definitively, but I can say it is a question we have over here in Alliance about having expert witnesses testify whose supervisor doesn’t have the credentials that the former crime lab director had.”
Staff writer Kelli Young contributed to this report.