Former chief sues village for civil rights violations

The former Bethel, Ohio police chief accused the mayor and village officials on Wednesday of violating his civil rights, defamed his character and tried to blame him for violent counter-protests during a Black Lives Matter demonstration last year .

The lawsuit, filed in the US District Court in Cincinnati, alleges Bethel Mayor Jay Noble scapegoated former boss Steve Teague for an incident that drew national attention to the tiny village in June.

Teague said in the lawsuit that Noble was embarrassed by the incident and decided to blame the former boss in order to draw attention to his own mistakes.

He said his relationship with Noble was already strained before the protests and counter-protests because Noble resisted Teague’s attempts to improve the police department and because Teague and his wife support the Black Lives Matter movement.

“Mayor Noble did not want to be rejected by Chief Teague and did not like his political views,” the lawsuit said. “Mayor Noble needed a scapegoat for the negative press the village received from the BLM demonstration and counter-protests.”

In his lawsuit, Teague said his wife was standing with the small group of Black Lives Matter protesters at the start of the protests, while Noble was standing with counter-protesters. He said Noble, who could not be reached for comment on Wednesday, was a motorcycle enthusiast who knew some of the counter-protesters and may have told them about the upcoming Black Lives Matter demonstration.

Hundreds of motorcyclists and other counter-protesters, some armed with guns and bats, came to Bethel at the start of the demonstration. Some yelled at and pushed and poked racist slurs at the protesters.

Several people were injured and the police arrested about half a dozen counter-protesters.

Prior to the protests, Teague said in the lawsuit, village officials, including Noble, opposed his efforts to prepare for possible riots. He said he was told he could not put up barriers such as fences and rope lines to keep the demonstrators and counter-protesters apart.

Teague also said Noble had refused to impose a curfew until day two of the protests.

“For reasons unknown, the mayor did not take any executive measures to protect the village prior to the protests,” the lawsuit said.

The lawsuit alleges that Teague and Noble’s relationship was strained in the months leading up to the protests because Teague Noble refused to ask police officers to write more traffic maps so the village could raise more money. Teague said he also rejected Noble’s attempts to turn the police into “private security” for the mayor’s apartment complexes.

Noble previously said Teague was the real problem, accusing him of lying, bullied and incompetent at work. In February, Noble filed administrative lawsuits against Teague to get him fired. He later dropped those charges and instead reprimanded Teague.

Allegations against Teague included poor records, an improperly maintained police evidence room and an incident where Teague and other officers euthanized two runaway cows by shooting them multiple times.

Teague, who has been with the police for 17 years, said Noble misrepresented the cow shootings and lied about many other allegations. He said problems with police records, evidence and training existed long before he took office in 2019.

The lawsuit says Teague was never disciplined before Noble filed the administrative charge against him.

Teague said Noble and the village council held secret meetings on administration fees before filing them, in violation of the Ohio Open Meetings Act.

Teague’s lawsuit, which includes nine cases of alleged wrongdoing, seeks unspecified damages from Noble and the village of Bethel.

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