An Ohio Department of Natural Resources law enforcement administrator who was demoted December 13th, 2018 for serious failures as a supervisor by the-then Kasich Administration was promoted May 29th by the DeWine Administration.
Returning to Natural Resources Administrator 4 posting to head up the agency’s Lake Erie parks and watercraft law enforcement unit is Patrick R. Brown who is to collect $49.22 per hour. This is $2.46 per hour more than Brown earned during his five-month demotion to Administrator 3.
In a teleconference interview, Natural Resources Director Mary Mertz said she was not specifically involved in Brown’s subsequent promotion. However, Mertz says she has confidence in the people who were behind the shock probation, explaining the individuals she selected as first- and second-tier administrators when she became director “are excellent people.”
Glenn Cobb, chief of the Ohio Division of Parks and Watercraft, was directly involved in Brown’s reinstatement. Cobb said Brown “deserved a second chance.”
Mertz also blamed much of the associated issues that saw Brown get into hot water were the result of paperwork snafus that confused and distorted what field staff and supervisors were responsible for and how they were to report issues.
For his part, Brown declined to comment, noting that his superiors provided the applicable information.
Yet a detailed 10-page investigation conducted departmentally in-house by Peter Novotny, assistant chief of the Ohio Division of Wildlife, points toward supervisory shortcomings by Brown.
This report was filed internally October 19th, 2018, and was obtained via Ohio’s open record laws by John Davis, the now-retired Natural Resources law enforcement chief, and a former Wildlife Division wildlife officer assigned to Wildlife District Three (Northeast Ohio).
Novotny’s report details six egregious supervisory miscues, noting in the document that Brown’s “.. enforcement staff has had multiple issues of evidence mismanagement, failure to conduct proper criminal investigations, adhere to policy, and process reports in a timely manner.”
Among the report’s findings of supervisory deficiencies was a failure to ensure that “sensitive” law enforcement equipment be properly retrieved and inventoried from an officer placed on temporary medical disability. This equipment included a taser, body armor, uniform items, badges and a firearm, Novothy’s report found.
“The investigation shows that Lt. Colonel Pat Brown failed to provide supervision by not ensuring that law enforcement equipment that was issued to (name withheld by writer) was secured when she was separated from ODNR.”
A more serious matter occurred December 29th, 2017 when a search warrant was conducted on a camper located at 4,870-acre East Fork State Park in Clermont County. This “...camper was not properly seized or secured while in possession of ODNR” but “was simply left” at the campsite where it was broken into with items stolen, thus breaking the chain of evidence, Novotny’s investigation says.
Subsequently, the camper was “…eventually stolen from the State Park and later recovered at a private residence,” Novotny’s investigative report reads.
While the investigator of the case was demoted – and whom Cobb did not entirely rule out eventually being promoted - Brown was singled out in Novotny’s investigation for failing to “...provide adequate supervision and guidance once he recognized a major issue in timely reporting...” into the Natural Resources Department’s reporting/filing system.
By far the most flagrant lack of adequate supervision began June 30th, 2017. That instance involved “...an alleged rape of a juvenile was reported on Pymatuning Lake,” Novotny’s 10-page investigation findings reveal. Pymatuning Reservoir and the Ohio State Park are located in Ashtabula County.
Novotny’s work found that the investigator in the alleged rape case - as well as “all his supervisors” - how his work was not being completed within departmental paperwork guidelines and procedures.
The investigation says Brown was notified via four separate e-mails how the investigator – who was eventually reassigned, Cobb said - “was failing to complete this case starting on February 2018 to May 2018.”
“Brown stated that he never opened the sex offense case report to check the details or progress. Brown just assumed that all cases are being handled accordingly and this report is simply an administrative oversight.”
“This investigation shows that Lt. Colonel Pat Brown failed to supervise Investigator (name withheld by writer) handling of a major crime. Brown was aware that there were issues with (name withheld by writer) work and should have taken steps to ensure this case was properly investigated. The sexual assault case remained open and showed no work completed since December of 2017,” Novotny’s investigative report says.
Ultimately on December 12th, 2018, Brown was presented with a Natural Resources Department “Discipline Agreement” affidavit affirming his demotion to Natural Resources Administrator 3 with a reduction in pay. This document was signed by Brown and two other Natural Resources Department officials with the agency’s official Personnel Actions Report being filed the next day.
The agreement did allow Brown to retain his law enforcement commission, and also spelled out that his duties could include – but were not limited to - “...preparing grant applications, coast guard reporting, supervision of non-law-enforcement personnel, and at least 20% law enforcement duties.”
In looking at the 10-page investigation by Novotny and the subsequent demotion of Brown, both Mertz and Cobb concluded no serious breach of supervision by the officer ensued. Instead, Mertz stated as to how she is “confident he (Brown) can do the job” in his newly appointed law enforcement supervisory position, and that Brown will “attack the challenges with a lot of energy.”
Furthermore, Cobb said Brown deserved “a second chance” and that the issues outlined in Novotny’s investigation did not rise to a level which warranted keeping Brown at the Natural Resources Administrator 3 level.
“I felt Mr. Brown accepted some responsibility,” Cobb said.
If anything, Mertz said, the failure was really not the fault of beggared leadership style or impoverished supervisory skills. Rather, it was due to a systemic failure of a hold-over reporting and filing system of required paperwork.
To that end, Mertz says, her team is all ready tackling the problem. The Natural Resources Department, Mertz says, is the process of replacing the old reporting-filing paperwork system with an all-new and much improved model. And all department employees will undergo rigorous retooling as to how to properly and accurately dot the “Is” and cross the “Ts.”
“I am doing and putting together the best team for the best (product) for the taxpayers of Ohio,” Mertz said.
Skeptical is Davis whose career in later years was typically out of the public’s purview, often being involved in internal affairs. His work experience also included exposure as a wildlife officer assigned to Summit County.
Davis likewise emphasized in a telephone interview that he has no axe to grind with anyone, including Brown whom Davis says is an engaging person with a kindly persona.
Yet Davis says he came forward to Mertz with a personal appeal and the FOI documents because he believes her Natural Resources Department “is not on the right track” and remains as dysfunctional as ever.
“It all comes back to doing the same things that we saw were being done before,” Davis said. “It’s just like the hands on a clock that keep going round and round.”
- Jeffrey L. Frschkorn