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Akron Beacon Journal

Akron police chief tells residents why he reinstated 8 officers in Jayland Walker shooting

By Eric Marotta and Doug Livingston, Akron Beacon Journal,


Akron Police Chief Steve Mylett's recent decision to reactivate eight police officers under investigation for the shooting death of Jayland Walker in June was a key part of the discussion at Wednesday's Ward 5 meeting hosted by City Council member Tara Mosley.

"The obvious is that this community has been in turmoil for the last several months," Mylett told about 30 residents at Mason Community Learning Center. "We're working hard to continue to connect and build that relationship with the community. No question for me is off the table. You all can ask me any question that you want and whatever I say to you is the truth that I know it to be right now."

The officers, who had been on paid administrative leave since Walker's death June 27, are being reassigned to administrative duty due to staffing issues within the department after several officers have left , Mylett said.

A criminal investigation into the shooting is being conducted by the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation. The Akron Police Department's Office of Professional Conduct and Accountability, also known as internal affairs, has started its own investigation.

Mylett had explained his decision to return the officers to duty as a response to a department staffing crisis, which he said forced him to do something to avoid having to cut services.

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Mylett described meetings with two advisory councils he had formed since joining the department in July 2021, one group comprised of area clergy and another of community members.

"I called a meeting of the two advisory councils independent of each other, but the message was the same," he said.

He said the department's staff is "probably below 420" officers, counting those on vacation or various types of leave, including maternity and military leave. He said returning the eight officers on duty enables him to keep patrol officers on the street.

Earlier this month, speaking with the media ahead of announcing the officers' reinstatement, Mylett said 31 officers, including those who've retired, have left the department this year, including 18 who left before the Walker shooting.

Area clergy pen letter: Akron pastors oppose return of 8 officers in Jayland Walker shooting, criticize chief

Mylett referred to a section of an Oct. 21 letter written by area clergy, which claimed that he had pledged to consult with the Walker family before making the reinstatement decision. The letter also accused him of falsely claiming clergy and others supported the decision.

"Reinstating Jayland's alleged killers is traumatic enough, but you have also falsified your conversations with our respected spiritual and community leaders," the letter said.

Mylett response: Chief calls clergy letter critical of police reinstatement 'irresponsible and harmful'

Mylett said that 90% of the 43 signatories of that letter had not been present at the two group meetings, so they could not have known what transpired.

Mylett also said that some of those who signed the clergy letter later called him personally to say they had not agreed to sign it. He didn't identify the people who said called him.

"At the conclusion of the discussion, it was the pastors and I and the African American Advisory Council and I discussing how we move forward, and the response I got was, 'Chief, we understand. If you make this decision, we understand,' " Mylett said.

He said the councils asked that he inform the Walker family prior to making his decision public.

When speaking to the media Oct. 11, Mylett said the officers had been reinstated as of the day before and that the family would be notified before the contents of that press conference could be published.

"Consultation was never a word that was used," he said. "This decision was mine. I was seeking advice from the pastors, as well as the African American Advisory Council.

"Today I received three or four phone calls from people, saying, 'Chief I don't know how my name got on there. I didn't give anyone permission to put my name on there,' and three of them are on my advisory council, and one of them is one of the pastors," he said.

"I've also had people tell me, 'Chief, I disagree with your decision, but this character assassination on you, I didn't agree to.' So the validity of the letter, for me, is called into question."

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Consensus, miscommunication, disagreement on both sides

Eric Garrett, the founder of Beyond Expectations Barber College, was among the signatories who called the chief to express disappointment that his name was affixed to the bottom of the letter.

Garrett told the Beacon Journal Thursday that someone close to the Walker family reached out to him to describe the letter, which he never saw before it was sent to the chief and then the media. Garrett said he agreed to add his name not knowing that the chief's personal integrity and honesty would be questioned in what he called a "super strongly worded" letter.

"The word consensus came about," Garrett said of a member of the Walker family who, like Jayland, came into one of Garrett's barbershops for a trim. During the visit, Garrett heard of a "consensus" of people signing the letter opposing the officers' reinstatement.

"Consensus" is the word Mylett used to describe the feedback he received from his two councils that, as he said earlier this month, told him "this decision was the right decision for the moment.'" But there was disagreement in at least one of the councils, if not spoken, another member said.

In hindsight, Garrett said both sides overplayed the "consensus" of their respective groups.

Garrett spoke with a community liaison in the police department before Mylett got on the phone with him this week.

"My name being on there," Garret said he told the chief, "I would never attack your character. I would never, you know, come at you that way. ... You just have a harder job to do right now. And everybody's going to armchair quarterback you ought to wait through. I support you. Just try to get this all right."

The Rev. Robert DeJournett, whose been a spokesman and source of spiritual support for the Walker family, said Thursday that some did not see "the whole letter" but they all agreed to sign it.

He wasn't sure how Mylett was coming up with three or four unnamed people who are now expressing reservations about their role in the letter or their signatures on it.

The contents of the letter, DeJournett said, came from sources on the chief's advisory councils, including a pastor who kept notes.

"The information that we received came from people who were actually in the meeting," he said. "We didn't just make that stuff up."

DeJournett said it was difficult to draft and share the letter in confidence, and speaking in a single voice has been a challenge.

"Everybody having a different perspective, I think that's really causing a lot more angst than it needs to be," he said Thursday. "And the chief just needs to own that it was his decision, you know? And I did hear him say something to that last night. But he never said that before, or we wouldn't even be here."

Residents question reinstatement decision

Some residents spoke to object the chief's decision to reinstate the officers involved in the fatal shooting.

Franklin Ragsdale, a political activist, said that a civilian under investigation in a shooting death would face a different reality.

"If it was me, outside of that uniform and that qualified immunity, you would have been charged and fighting for your life just like the rest of us, not sitting at home with your family, going to sleep, happy-go-lucky with everybody else, and not going back to work in any capacity as an officer ... that doesn't wash with me as a member of the community," Ragsdale said.

"I don't think there's anything that I'm going to be able to respond to you that is going to satisfy your concerns," Mylett said, who has said the Walker's shooting has caused pain for his family, the community and the officers.

Mylett repeatedly said that it is not uncommon for officers under investigation to return to work pending the outcome of an investigation.

"I'm in a situation now where I'm going to have to make some serious decisions, whether or not we cut services to the public and transfer officers back to the streets ... I have to man the front line before I do anything else," he said, telling the audience the department is short-staffed to point that some services would otherwise need to be cut.

"They're going to provide a service that will relieve the pressure on patrol," he said of the eight reinstated officers.

Eric Marotta can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @MarottaEric.

This article originally appeared on Akron Beacon Journal: Akron police chief tells residents why he reinstated 8 officers in Jayland Walker shooting

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