Saturday, May 23, 2009

Cincinnati City Council Member Laketa Cole

The Channel 9 I-Team has exposed Democratic Cincinnati city council member Laketa Cole for attempting to use her position on the Cincinnati city council to influence the events of a recent traffic stop where her companion was charged with illegally driving under a suspension and she allegedly committed a traffic infraction. Click here to SEE the I-Team story. Click here to READ the I-Team story.

The media reports several disturbing things:

1. Upon being stopped by police, Ms. Cole made phone calls to high-ranking city and police officials from the scene. She called the Cincinnati city manager, Milton Dohoney. She called high-ranking Cincinnati police Assistant Chief Lt. Col. Michael Cureton. Her minor traffic infraction must have been a source of great public concern causing these important city officials to attend to Ms. Cole and her friend's personal escapades rather that to the public's business.

2. Ms. Cole was riding with someone who, according to the charges against him, shouldn't be driving on the streets of the city because his license is suspended.

3. Ms. Cole inserted herself into the work of a police officer by using her position as a member of the city council to "go over the officer's head" to an Assistant Police Chief so as to question and attempt to alter the events of the traffic stop. She succeeded. The police cruiser video clearly shows the police officer perplexed over the orders of an Assistant Police Chief who was called by Ms. Cole. After receiving the telephone from Ms. Cole, P.O. Zucker can be heard saying, "He just told me not to take the motorcycle. Now, what do I do?" Ms. Cole influenced the events of this traffic stop leaving the police officer concerned about his responsibility. The law is clear: he was to seize the motorcycle. He now understood that he had received a different order from his supervisor through Ms. Cole's cell phone. Did Ms. Cole try to influence whether her companion's motorcycle would be seized thereby forcing this police officer to make a choice between not following the law or not following an Assistant Chief's orders? With some clarification, the officer was finally able to do his duty and seize the offender's motorcycle. Although the right thing ultimately happened and the motorcyle was seized, the facts demonstrate that Ms. Cole was trying to use her authority to improperly influence and interfere with police procedure.

4. Ms. Cole stated to the I-team that she "never asked for a favor." Putting word games aside, the facts demonstrate otherwise and the statement defies common sense. Ms. Cole was trying to be a "big shot" and that is obvious to anyone who watches the video.

5. Ms. Cole called Mr. Dohoney to question why three police officers were on the scene. Was she insinuating some inappropriate police behavior? I have watched hundreds of these police videos as a prosecutor, Judge, and now private attorney. There is nothing unusual about police officers gathering at a traffic stop that becomes somewhat out of the ordinary. This is routine and regular police procedure. To the inexperienced viewer, it may seem odd. It simply is not. Officers will sometimes congregate at the scene of a stop for many reasons. Ms. Cole escalated this police stop by using her position as a member of city council.

6. The Enquirer reports that Ms. Cole claims she is innocent of the traffic infraction but will "pay it out" (a way of pleading guilty to a minor traffic infraction). Her statement to the Enquirer: "“Because of all the media, it’s easier just to pay it out, even though I don’t see that I did anything wrong,” she said. “I think it’s gotten bigger than it actually is.” So, Ms. Cole claims she was wrongly charged but will now not exercise her Constitutional rights and stand on her presumption of innocence because of media scrutiny? Incredible.

Laketa Cole chairs the powerful city council Finance Committee. It is fair to say that this committee chairmanship is the most coveted on the council as it can be so influential in how the city spends millions of dollars. Ms. Cole was appointed to this spot by Mayor Mallory. Her role on this committee makes her even more influential to the city manager and to the police division. We can be sure of one thing: When Ms. Cole calls any agency funded with city dollars--she will get an answer and action promptly. Unfortunately, this is not the kind of phone call a responsible public servant should ever make.

This is not Ms. Cole's first time dealing with the police and leaving the public to wonder whether she was using her position to influence events. Today's online Enquirer reports:

"This is not Cole’s first run-in with police. In October 2007, during her re-election campaign, Cole got into a fight with another woman over a boyfriend. Neither was charged. Police said Cole asked that her name be left off the police report, but Cole said it was police who suggested she remain anonymous.

Police officials checked open records laws and later added her name to the report."

To read the entire Enquirer story, click here.

Politically, we've blogged about Ms. Cole's failure to act cooperatively with the county to help alleviate the dangerous lack of jail capacity that our county suffers. In a letter to County Commissioner Hartmann, Ms. Cole rebuffed efforts by the county to buy more ankle monitoring bracelets to keep an eye on offenders who ought to be in non-existent jail space. Read our blog posting here.

The recent events involving Ms. Cole demonstrate a pattern of behavior that voters should strongly consider as they go to the ballot box in November. This most recent episode is unacceptable and wrong. Ms. Cole has demonstrated behavior that is unprofessional and unbecoming of a public official. She is not worthy of re-election.

Her chairmanship of a critical committee responsible for controlling public funds came as a result of her receiving that appointment from the Democratic Mayor. Mayor Mallory made a mistake in that appointment. That mistake should not be repeated.

The city has a chance to elect better leadership at city hall in 2009 and we will urge them to do so, relentlessly, until Election Day.