Students who bully…, now boo hooing! They ARE punks!

By: Vote “NO” on all levies

Geauga County Commissioner Ralph Spidalieri said June 23 he is “pretty disgusted” with media reports of comments he made at the June 16 Geauga County Commissioners meeting.

Spidalieri took the floor at the June 23 commissioners meeting after the conclusion of regular business to respond to criticism he received over statements made during public session June 16, in which he vowed to assist Sheriff Scott Hildenbrand in securing funding to equip deputies with riot gear.

During the June 16 meeting — and according to the audio recording of the meeting — the topic of recent vandalism of national monuments came up. Spidalieri said the vandalism of a veteran’s memorial in Virginia “should be a shootable offense,” drawing both criticism and support on social media. Spidalieri called reports of his commentary very irresponsible.

“The conversation and the statement that I had was part of a much larger conversation based on less-lethal shootable situations,” he explained. “And that comment was directly related as a shootable situation for a less-than-lethal situational use.”

Spidalieri said the discussion at the time centered on vandalism of military gravestones. The military, he said, deserves better treatment.

“And I tell you this,” he continued. “I will always stand for the flag. I will kneel only to Jesus Christ. And at the end of the day, we have rules, regulations and laws in this country.”

Spidalieri, who said he is still a commissioned police officer in the state of Ohio, told the audience he came from Shaker Heights, a very diverse community, and has worked with both Black and white officers. Race, he said, was never a factor in his police work.

“I have worked with Black officers, I’ve worked with white officers, of all the things that I’m hearing about race and all this stuff, I take it real personal and (I am) really, really disgusted because of the fact that this is, we are people, this is not about race, this isn’t about anything other than some civil unrest that is happening and criminal behavior,” he said.

A handful of community members were present at the meeting and, after Spidalieri opened the floor for questions, a heated conversation ensued.

Anissa Smith, who teaches government at Kenston Schools, asked Spidalieri for clarification on comments in which he referred to protesters in Chagrin Falls as punks.

“They were some of my students, my former students, class presidents at Kenston, teachers that I know, pastors and a school superintendent in Chagrin Falls peacefully protesting,” Smith said. “And that really upsets me that you would call them punks when I know them personally and they are good kids.”

South Russell resident Newell Howard, a fixture at county meetings, shouted, “They’re punks,” in response to her statement.

“I’m sorry, but they’re my students and they have every right to protest,” Smith said. “Do you know of any vandalism that these students and these people did in Chagrin Falls?”

Spidalieri responded while he applauds the fact there was no civil unrest there, it is unfortunate businesses had to take measures like boarding up doors and windows in anticipation of violence.

Smith replied the businesses jumped to fear too quickly because of a 24-hour “fake news” cycle.

“That 24-hour news cycle is making all of us think that these horrible protests are gonna happen in every county,” Smith said. “I live in Geauga County, I’ve taught in Geauga County for 26 years, I don’t see civil unrest occurring and I feel that we jumped to fear way too quickly because of what we see on TV.”

Smith added the national media puts out negative stories because that is how they make their money.

“I could not agree with you more,” Spidalieri replied. “This is the same situation as we saw in the (local) paper. So, I appreciate you sharing my frustration and thank you for your comments.”

While the Geauga County Maple Leaf did mention the Cleveland rioters in reference to local law enforcement’s response, it also reported on the peaceful experiences Geauga County residents who attended the May 30 rally had, as well as on the peaceful protesters in Chagrin Falls June 2.

Spidalieri later said his comments regarding “punks” were in reference to two previously-identified Chardon-area brothers who most recently attended the Chagrin rally and made racial slurs. He thanked members of the audience for allowing him to clarify that statement.

Kate Baker, a parent of a West Geauga High School student who has participated in recent peaceful protests, asked Spidalieri to clarify his comments regarding the purchase of chemical munitions for sheriff’s office deputies.

“The conversation was never, never did it come up — once again, irresponsible reporting — of using chemical munitions in Chesterland,” Spidalieri said. “This was a situation of purchasing riot gear, purchasing masks, purchasing chemical munitions, God forbid the time ever came to that. And that’s exactly what the conversation was.”

“So, you did not discuss funding chemical munitions,” Baker asked.

“Never,” he replied. “Never. And the sheriff is right there and he’ll tell you the same thing.”

However, according to the audio recording of the June 16 meeting, after Spidalieri urged the sheriff’s office to order riot gear as soon as possible, he went on to say, “… and then as far as chemical munitions, I don’t know where you guys stand with that, but, if there’s something on that side of it, too, I would definitely look to outfit your agency with some chemical munitions and you know, masks if you guys don’t have the upgraded gas masks.

“I – you know – listen, at the end of the day, this is nothing to play with. And if we can’t look out for the best interests of our first responders out there, we got a problem. And I support a thousand percent, I’m sure Tim does, too, and we could get this, I think we need to just kind of get the fast track on it to just get it going.”

During the June 23 meeting, Spidalieri said he was happy members of the public attended the meeting to see the reality of the process and how items are discussed.

He said the county has not issued a statement in support of racial equality because that is how they run business every day.

“We are not here to discriminate against anybody, so why would we need to try to reinforce what we do every day as a county, and what we do as a group,” he said. “The problem is … people like yourself are expecting us to basically try to address issues that we address every day, of equality. We’re not Black, we’re not white, we’re not green, we’re not red, we’re Americans. And we’re human beings that live every day in this country and at the end of the day, that is what we’re about.”

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