Tempers flare at meeting over village police department

WELLSVILLE – A public hearing concerning the creation of a new revitalization district in Wellsville drew no attendees at 5 p.m. on Tuesday. An hour later, however, the space inside council chambers was filled to capacity for the village council’s regular meeting, with residents wanting to hear – and be heard – regarding the village police department since the death of Chief Joseph Scarabino on May 8.

During an extended public comments portion of the meeting, Dolly Brophey of Lincoln Avenue spoke of Scarabino, her nephew, as “one of the most beloved patrolmen that we have ever had in Wellsville.” She implored that council members consider the appointment of Lt. Ed Wilson as Scarabino’s successor as chief, saying he has proved himself managing the department over the months that Scarabino was on medical leave.

“I think he deserves to be police chief in Wellsville,” Brophey said.

Donna Scarabino, sister of the late chief, also voiced her support for either Wilson, whom she called her late brother’s best friend, or Officer Marsha Eisenhart to be appointed to fill the vacant chief’s office. “They both deserve it,” she said.

The tone turned less cordial when Ms. Scarabino confronted Mayor Susan Haugh with a series of questions, including claims that Haugh called Scarabino at home, demanding that he investigate a case in Cleveland knowing that he was ill, later reprimanding him when he failed to do so. “My brother was very sick, and that was very wrong,” she said.

Haugh denied any knowledge of the exchange. “I don’t know what you’re talking about, I honestly don’t,” she said, though Scarabino stood by her accusation. “You said you didn’t know he was even sick, and you did know he was sick,” she said.

Haugh replied that she texted Scarabino last November, and receiving no response, was unsure as to his condition. She said she was reluctant to ask, not wanting to risk violating his medical privacy under the HIPAA laws, and decided to not text him again until March.

“Until his wife, Cindy – I called her just a month or two ago,” Haugh said. “All I was told is he is very, very sick,” Haugh said. She further said she never would have contacted him again were it not for a letter bearing Scarabino’s signature affixed to the door of his office, stating that he was in daily contact with the department.

Donna Scarabino also claimed that following the hire of the detective now serving as the village’s representative to the Columbiana County Drug Task Force, Haugh undertook plans to replace Scarabino with him as chief of the department.

“It never entered my mind about him being chief,” Haugh replied, referring to it as one of many “rumors going around that are not true.”

The most heated exchanges came when Donna Scarabino asked the mayor about her need to get into Scarabino’s locked office inside the department in March, eventually hiring a locksmith to open the door to get inside. “His wife was to be in there first,” Scarabino said angrily.

This was the reason for the second text she sent Scarabino in March, Haugh replied. According to Haugh, the village had to gain access to personnel files in Scarabino’s office due to the lawsuit filed by Wilson against the village in response to a three-day suspension issued in January by Haugh for allegedly physically threatening the village’s DTF agent during an encounter at the department.

Haugh said she received a summons from Wilson’s attorney to produce his and Scarabino’s personnel files, but Wilson would not unlock the door. “Had I not tried everything possible to get those, then I would have been held in contempt,” Haugh said. She further countered claims that any harm was not intended to the chief or his family, saying, “I would never have disrespected Chief Scarabino like that.”

Donna Scarabino then asked Wilson, who was present, if this was true. “I asked Thom [Edgell, village administrator] what the reason was they needed in the office, and he said he didn’t know,” Wilson replied. “I said, I’m not going to open that door without a court order.”

Attorney Robert Yallech, who is representing the village and Haugh in the lawsuit filed by Wilson, subsequently confirmed the mayor’s claim. “I did instruct her that the attorney for Lt. Wilson asked for personnel files that were, in fact, in the chief’s office,” he said. “So I asked the mayor if she would please get into that office and get those files for me, because if she did not, the court would not look kindly upon her or the city.”

While the issue of who will be named the next police chief was not settled at the meeting, a pair of executive session were held, the second followed by no action and leading to adjournment. Following the first session, however, council voted to accept what councilman Randy Allmon referred to in his motion as, “consent to settle on behalf of the city and the mayor in the amount filed against the village by Lt. Wilson.”

After the meeting, Attorney Yallech would not specify on the terms of the agreement reached. “We have an agreement in principal, but we don’t have terms of a settlement,” he said.