Court News Ohio
Court News Ohio
Court News Ohio

City Did Its Best to Locate Offensive Images Stripped from Police Chief’s Computer

The Supreme Court of Ohio ruled today that Sheffield Lake officials made reasonable, but unsuccessful, efforts to uncover racist or disparaging documents from the computer of a former police chief who was caught on video placing a “Ku Klux Klan” sign on the coat of a Black police officer.

Former Sheffield Lake Police Chief Anthony Campo was placed on leave four days after the June 2021 incident, and Campo resigned the same day. The officer, Keith Pool, submitted a public records request seeking more information from the city about Campo’s behavior as chief. When Pool believed the city was stalling, he asked the Supreme Court to compel the city to thoroughly search computer and printer hard drives for other documents Campo made.

In a per curiam opinion, the Supreme Court noted the city hired an outside expert company to try to recover or recreate information Campo had “stripped” from his computer. The Court denied the writ of mandamus Pool requested, finding that the city’ search and recovery effort had to be “reasonable, not Herculean.”

Pool also sought statutory damages, court costs, and attorney fees related to the records request. The Court denied any financial sanctions, finding that delays the city experienced in attempting to locate information were justified.

Chief Justice Sharon L. Kennedy and Justices Patrick F. Fischer, R. Patrick DeWine, Michael P. Donnelly, and Joseph T. Deters joined the opinion. Justices Melody Stewart and Jennifer Brunner concurred in part, agreeing with the opinion but stating they would award damages to Pool.

Police Chief  Mocked Employees with Computer-Generated Images
In 2020, Pool was the only Black police officer on the Sheffield Lake force. The town of about 9,000 residents is located in Lorain County along the Lake Erie coastline. When Pool worked for Campo, the chief was known to use a computer program called Face in Hole to make signs mocking the employees of the department. The program allows the image of a person’s face to be inserted in the open “hole” to create an image. Campo inserted Pool’s face into an image of the Grim Reaper, which was labeled with a racial slur and posted on the office bulletin board for three weeks.

Police Chief Caught on Video
In June 2021, Campo, who is white, used a city-owned printer to write “Ku Klux Klan” on a sheet of paper. Office surveillance video captured Campo attaching the sign to the back of Pool’s raincoat, covering where it said “Police.” Campo is then seen donning a paper pointed Klan-like hat as he spoke with Pool and other officers. The incident was reported to Mayor Dennis Bring, who placed Campo on administrative leave pending investigation. Campo resigned the same day.

Officer Files Civil Rights Complaints, Seeks Additional Records
Pool filed the public records request and a complaint with the Ohio Civil Rights Commission. In August 2022, the commission found probable cause that Campo subjected Pool to unlawful discriminatory practices. The commission also found probable cause that two of Pool’s coworkers faced discrimination as subjects of disparaging Face in Hole images posted on the bulletin board by Campo.

Pool’s records request asked the city for several types of documents including any complaint the mayor received about Campo; communications Campo may have had with the mayor and other city personnel regarding Pool; and official memos or directives issued by Campo.

The officer also sought images of himself or other city employes Campo made with Face in Hole, including any printed documents as well as any image files saved on computers or printers used by Campo.

City Cannot Fully Deliver Records
The city provided partial responses to Pool about three weeks after receiving his request. The city told Pool’s attorney it could provide complete requests by mid-September 2021. The city provided some, but not all, of the records requested. When Pool’s attorney asked the city to indicate if its response was complete, the city did not respond.

In November 2021, Pool asked the Supreme Court for the writ to compel the city to turn over the rest of the information he sought, particularly the Face in Hole images and the list of requested memos and directives issued by Campo.

The city provided Pool with the police department manual in January 2022, which contained all directives issued by Campo. The next month, the city sent Pool a number of emails, many of which were noted with “attachment stripped.” But Pool received no emails with Face in Hole images.

The city argued that the Face in Hole images were not public records, and even if they were, the city made reasonable attempts to locate or recreate them and could not.

Supreme Court Analyzed Records Request
Pool pressed for the image records even though he noted that hard copies would be hard to locate. In a sworn statement, Pool explained that Campo would print offensive images, show them to people, then shred them with the department shredder. The Court’s opinion noted that partly explains why the city was unable to find hard copies of any of the images Campo composed.

The city hired a company that replicated Campo’s computer hard drive. The company found email attachments for some documents that Campo created but did not locate any Face in Hole images.

The opinion noted the Court considered a similar request in 2008 to recover email contents that were unlawfully deleted. The Court stated in the State ex rel. Toledo Blade Co. v. Seneca Cty. Bd. of Commrs. decision that a public office need only make a reasonable, “not Herculean,” efforts to comply with the Ohio Public Records Act. Because the city made reasonable efforts to recover the deleted emails, the Court denied Pool’s request.

2021-1387. State ex rel. Pool v. Sheffield Lake, Slip Opinion No. 2023-Ohio-1204.

Please note: Opinion summaries are prepared by the Office of Public Information for the general public and news media. Opinion summaries are not prepared for every opinion, but only for noteworthy cases. Opinion summaries are not to be considered as official headnotes or syllabi of court opinions. The full text of this and other court opinions are available online.

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