Local Officer Cleared of Charges

Louis Krauss, News Editor

Oberlin Police Chief Juan Torres said he would not pursue further action in response to a report of local police harassment. City residents Monique Brooks-Cochran and her fiancé Arvis Townsend, who are both Black, filed the complaint after officer Bashshar Wiley allegedly harassed and monitored their family over the last four years.

Townsend, who has been arrested five times and had 49 encounters with Oberlin Police between 2012 and 2016 for charges including drug possession and robbery, complained that Wiley would frequently park his patrol car in front of his house for no reason and go out of his way to serve him warrants, sometimes doing so in the middle of the night.

“It’s like every time he sees me he’s harassing me,” Townsend said. “It never stops. He constantly runs my name and is always laughing like it’s a joke, and my kids are now terrified of Oberlin police.”

Townsend, 37, and Brooks-Cochran, 44, filed the report in early August in response to a traffic stop on July 25 by both Wiley and officer Corey Shoemaker, during which Townsend claimed the officers intimidated and racially discriminated against them. In total, the report cited at least five cases where Wiley allegedly harassed Townsend and his family. Wiley did not respond to any of the Review’s interview requests.

In order to eliminate possible conflicts of interest, Torres gave the investigation to detective Heath Tester from the Lorain County Sheriff ’s Office.

“I have the confidence in our staff to do the investigation,” Torres said. “But in order to have a transparent process and avoid any accusations of partiality, it was better to go outside on this case.”

After Tester investigated the case for approximately two months and consulted with his supervisor and Sheriff Phil Stammitti, he decided the complaint was without basis and unfounded before returning it to Torres to make the final decision last week.

Torres told Brooks-Cochran over the phone he would take several weeks to look into the report, but decided several days later that no further action would be taken.

“I could see that officer Wiley was very distraught about this, so I went full time and read as hard as I could,” Torres said. “I put priority on this big time because I don’t want my officer to be under so much stress.”

But while Torres says he took the case seriously and spent over 30 hours on it, Townsend was upset and said he thinks Torres rushed it unfairly.

“He didn’t look over it, I know he didn’t,” Townsend said. “There’s no possible way he looked over all that paperwork in just four days and found Wiley was not negligent.”

One issue Torres faced was that Townsend refused to give investigators any of his video footage of police harassing him, which made it harder to prove whether police made racist remarks and laughed at him during the traffic stop as the report claims. Townsend said he wanted to meet with his lawyer and make a more formal case before giving the police access to his footage.

It is unclear why Tester’s report was only concerned with the traffic stop in July. After reporting multiple cases of harassment to Torres, Brooks-Cochran was surprised to find that the report only really went in detail on the most recent case.

“I told Tester I didn’t want him to just investigate that one day, I wanted them to look at all of them, around ten altogether,” Brooks-Cochran said.

Torres said in an email to the Review that the investigation did consider all the cases Brooks-Cochran listed. However, three out of the four pages of Tester’s report are in regards to the traffic stop and does not reference any other specific cases of harassment.

Additionally, the report explained that it is unsurprising Wiley was often involved with Townsend due to the small size of Oberlin — around 8,300 residents — and its police force. The report found that Wiley was involved in 17 of the 49 police encounters Townsend experienced.

Part of the reason Wiley dealt with Townsend more than other officers is because he is a field-training officer, which Torres said entails being more forward about dealing with repeat offenders.

“Field-training officer means he needs to be very proactive and get familiar with who common offenders are,” Torres said. “Aside from that, he’s a very proactive person and that’s his nature, not to mention he works night shifts and we only have two officers at night.”

Townsend wonders whether the fact that his son used to date Wiley’s niece played a role in the increased harassment. Specifically, Brooks-Cochran pointed to an alleged incident in 2014 when she caught the officer’s niece sneaking into her son’s room and made the girl’s father take her home.

“I don’t know if that information ever got back to officer Wiley, but soon after he told us he would make our lives hell, and since then it has been,” Brooks-Cochran said. “So I wonder whether that made him come around our house more.”

Torres said he was surprised to hear of these complaints, calling Wiley an “outstanding” officer. Torres stated that he and Tester both knew Wiley’s niece dated Townsend’s son and felt it didn’t impact Wiley’s professionalism.

Torres added that Wiley was unhappy about the situation and felt as though his reputation was tarnished. This was the first harassment complaint Torres received since he began as chief last fall, but said he would take the situation very seriously and review if changes need to be made.

“In the next month we will be reviewing the report,” Torres said. “My goal is to get zero complaints. I still want to make contact with him personally.”