REYNOLDSBURG, OH After months of investigation, a longtime Reynoldsburg police officer was fired last week.
Conduct unbecoming. Two racially charged Facebook posts deemed beyond the pale.
But the case against Officer Katherine Mielke was far more complex than that, investigative files reveal. Complaints and testimony released on Thursday by the city of Reynoldsburg show one officer complaining of a larger issue within the department.
“Is the pigment of my skin yet again the reason why no one in this department or the city cares about what I care about?” wrote Officer Tony Hines, who complained to his superiors about Mielke’s social-media activity. “I’m not asking anyone to actually care about the nonwhite community, I’m asking someone to do what’s right.”
Mielke, who worked for the department for 22 years and was earning more than $80,000 annually, was fired last week. She’s appealing that termination. Jason Pappas, president of the local police union, called the punishment “overkill.”
Neither Hines nor Mielke’s attorney could be reached for comment on Thursday. The details that follow come from investigative reports.
Hines, one of Reynoldsburg’s three black police officers, filed his complaint against Mielke in January.
In the weeks prior, Mielke, who is white, had posted two items on her personal Facebook pages that Hines said offended him and others in the community. About one-fourth of the city’s residents are black.
One post was a cartoon of a white officer arresting a black man with corn rows and big lips. Behind him a white man lay slumped over the counter of a liquor store, covered in blood. “You’re hurting my wrists!” the black man complained, as a crowd of black onlookers shouted of brutality.
The second post was a joke featuring a Chinese man’s broken English and confusion that culminated in him having sex with his boss’ wife.
Hines said he spoke to Mielke about the posts and suggested she delete her Facebook page.
Mielke was a close friend, he said, though he also noted that she sometimes drove to work in a truck with a confederate flag stretched along the back window.
Mielke was hired in 1993 and spent much of her Reynoldsburg career working in schools. Her personnel file is thick with commendations. Wynter Palmer, who attended Reynoldsburg schools, remembered Mielke as a constant, friendly presence.
“We all loved her,” said Palmer, 25, who is black and Native American.
Police documents also reveal that Mielke was disciplined three times in 2014 and 2015, for crashing a cruiser, not reporting for duty and negligently discharging a Taser. In 2014, the head of Reynoldsburg City Schools wrote to ask the police chief not to send Mielke back to the district.
“This is based off of observations that include internet activity that is questionable in nature and has been viewed by students and parents district-wide,” Superintendent Tina Thomas-Manning wrote.
Hines said he finally complained to police administrators after Mielke wrote on Facebook that “ we need to focus on black-on-black crime more so than the problem of bad cops.”
Soon, though, Hines had turned his ire toward the department. His complaint about Mielke turned into a criticism of administrators. He believed he was being ignored, leading to his heated written complaint and a confrontation with his lieutenant that Police Chief Jim O’Neill said “became borderline insubordination.”
O’Neill said Hines “has from time to time come forward with extremely vague allegations of disparate treatment” but rarely provides specific evidence.
“I hate to just say he’s generically crying wolf,” O’Neill said. “It just seems to be from time to time these things sort of follow him around.”
Hines was able to show concrete proof of Mielke’s Facebook posts, though. The city hired a Cincinnati labor lawyer, Douglas Duckett, whose investigation concluded that the two Facebook posts were racist and offensive and that Mielke’s actions may have harmed her reputation and the department’s.
O’Neill recommended terminating her. The safety director and mayor signed off on it.
The police chief said his officers have undergone cultural-diversity training since this all began. He said he hopes those who were offended by Mielke’s postings see that the department is committed to moving forward.
“We took the action that we think is appropriate and stand by it,” he said.