Derogatory Comments, Inappropriate Relationship and Criminal Case Forced Akron Chief Out

Aug 28, 2017

Mayor Dan Horrigan's Chief of Staff James Hardy, Mayor Horrigan and Interim Chief Ken Ball take questions about the forced resignation of Chief James Nice.
Credit M.L. SCHULTZE / WKSU public radio

The forced resignation of Akron Police Chief James Nice was fast, unexpected and -- many said -- sad. WKSU’s M.L. Schultze has more on the combination of factors that led to the chief’s departure – and what happens next.

Akron council members and reporters blended together in the police roll-call room, while a cluster of uniformed officers stood in the hall leading into the room. All wanted to learn more about why Nice, the retired FBI agent who led the Akron department for the last six years, abruptly quit Sunday afternoon – and would have been fired by Mayor Dan Horrigan if he hadn’t.

Horrigan provided only the broadest of outlines:

“I requested James Nice to resign, citing evidence of conduct unbecoming of an officer, Including making derogatory statements about fellow officers, inappropriate contact with a city employee and allegations of potential criminal misconduct relating to the ongoing criminal case involving his nephew…”

Here's Mayor Dan Horrigan answering questions about the forced resignation of Police Chief James Nice:

Court records show that nephew, Joseph Nice, worked for a car dealership and is facing charges of forgery and theft involving a car. A gag order has been requested in the case, and it’s not clear -- if Chief Nice attempted to intervene – and, if so, in which direction he would have been prodding investigators.

As for the other two allegations, Horrigan refused to say anything about the female officer Nice is accused of having a relationship with, nor would he characterize what types of comments Nice is accused of making.

"Not the Nice I knew'
Council President Marilyn Keith repeatedly said none of that is the James Nice she knew.  

“I worked with Chief Nice on a number of occasions on a number of things and have the deepest respect for him. And yet I also have deep respect for our mayor, Dan Horrigan, and I do not believe that Dan Horrigan would have done a knee-jerk reaction to anything.” 

Were comments racial?
Councilwoman Tara Mosley Samples says she and Nice also had a comfortable working relationship.

“We could call each other and if he had an issue with something going on in our community we could always say we could keep it real with each other and we would have conversation about things that bothered him.”

The Beacon Journal is reporting the city says the comments were racial and critical of the physical fitness of other officers. Mosley Samples says – for the city’s sake -- the exact wording will have to be made public at some point.

“It has been a very stressful time for this country and it has brought out things in people that we never thought we would see. And I know this was playing parts in it. Were there racial things said? We don’t know. But something was said for it to get to this point.” 

A reflection on the Akron Police Department?
Horrigan has named Maj. Ken Ball the interim chief, and introduced him at the press conference. His first words:

“I am angry at the circumstances that have brought us here today.”

'I do not know what the comments were. But I fear what the comments were and how that will mar all the good that we're trying to do.'

But like Keith and Samples, he says he had never witnessed the comments Nice is accused of making. Nor, he said, did he have an inkling of what an investigation would reveal since Friday night, when top officers became aware of the comments and went to Horrigan. And he says the conduct was Nice’s alone.

“The Akron Police department prides itself on its values in serving our residents ethically and impartially. As the mayor stated, there is no evidence that any of these issues are systemic within this organization. If there were any information that pointed in that direction, it would be dealt with appropriately, swiftly and thoroughly.”

Regret and categorical denial
Nice is not commenting – something his attorney says is hard for him. The lawyer, Mike Callahan, did issue a statement saying Nice regrets any inappropriate conduct and comments – and categorically denies anything that hints of criminality.

17-year-old's death a suicide
The chief’s resignation capped a weekend in which a 17-year-old boy – handcuffed in the back of a cruiser – managed to recover what appears to be a gun he and two others were using in an earlier robbery and shot and killed himself. At least six officers were on the scene, but away from the cruiser.

It, too, was addressed at Monday’s press conference, by Captain Jesse Leeser, who acknowledged the department doesn’t have a firm pat-down policy or know if an appropriate pat-down was done.

“It all depends on the circumstances. It’s hard to say exactly every time you do it this way. It’s a rapidly evolving situation, you have a limited amount of officers with three suspects possibly armed. You can handle it different ways, but I don’t want to go into it.”

The Summit County medical examiner has ruled the death a suicide, and the case is being investigated by the city, the county and the state Bureau of Criminal Investigation.

As council President Marilyn Keith prepared to leave the press conference, she also  began to cry.

“I love this city and I think it’s just another black mark, and I think we’ve done a good job of holding our own through all the tension we have. And I do not know what the comments were, but I fear what the comments were and how that will mar all the good that we’re trying to do.”

But, she also expressed confidence that Ball is the right man to serve in the interim – and perhaps more. That choice will be up to Mayor Horrigan.