The police chief of Bellaire, Ohio, has been reprimanded for cursing out a civilian. He’s been accused of kicking in doors to enforce imaginary property codes. And he’s been the target of an online petition calling for his resignation over “bullying” behavior.
And now the village’s top cop, Richard “Dick” Flanagan, is under fire again–this time for the mind-boggling decision to hire the officer who shot and killed 12-year-old Tamir Rice four years ago and who was then fired from the Cleveland police force for failing to disclose that his previous employer found him unfit for service.
Flanagan, a former professional wrestler who has been a cop for three decades, also made a second questionable hire: the suspended police chief of Bethesda, Ohio, is under investigation by the state attorney general for allegedly misusing a law enforcement computer.
Reached by phone, Flanagan declined to discuss with The Daily Beast the job offers or his own past actions, although it appears he doesn’t normally have trouble expressing himself.
“Keep your goddamn mouth shut!” he is heard screaming on a video posted to YouTube in 2014. “Yeah, take your ass in the house.”
The anonymous person who posted that video wrote that Flanagan, then a lieutenant, was responding to a call for help when he began verbally assailing her neighbor, who then asked for his name and badge number.
“I told you my name, dumbass,” Flanagan responded. At another point, he shouted, “fuck you” and told a man at the address he was a “fucking idiot” for putting up with his wife.
The video prompted a local resident to start an online petition to get Flanagan off the force, saying the community was not safe so long as he had “a badge and a gun.”
“Our children should be able to view you as super-heroes. Not badge and firearm wielding bullies,” the resident wrote, adding that the “community does not have to be bullied by the very same people who are paid by our taxes to protect us from such actions.”
The petition got 41 signatures. Following an internal investigation, Flanagan received a “letter of reprimand in his file,” a Bellaire Police spokesman told The Daily Beast on Monday.
But that black mark didn’t stop Flanagan from snagging the job as police chief in the 4,000-person village near the border of West Virginia–and neither did any of the other complaints about him.
Among the controversies is a 2007 lawsuit by a state liquor agent who alleged that Flanagan and other officers arrested him on an open-container charge while he was working undercover, even after he identified himself as an officer.
The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Columbus, alleged that Flanagan and two other officers were off-duty at a local bar—coincidentally named Flanagan's–when agent Byron R. Guinther was conducting an operation to determine if the bar was selling alcohol to minors.
When Guinther tried to leave with the beer he confiscated, the policemen stopped him in the doorway, according to suit. After Guinther informed them he, too, was a law officer, they responded that “they did not care who he was” and had an on-duty cop arrest him for a “minor misdemeanor,” the suit charged.
Flanagan revealed during the encounter that he “was not only a police officer but that he also worked at the bar,” Guinther’s complaint stated. The parties later agreed to dismiss the case with prejudice, but it was not clear from court records if they settled the matter out of court.
Flanagan ran twice for sheriff of Belmont County. After he lost in 2012, he filed a court challenge, claiming his opponent, Dave Lucas, a 26-year veteran of the sheriff’s office, was not qualified to be a candidate.
Lucas’ attorney, Christopher Gagin, said at the time that he was “stunned at Dick Flanagan’s recklessness with the truth.” The case was ultimately dismissed. Lucas declined to comment.
When he ran again in 2016, Flanagan campaigned on a platform reminiscent of Sheriff Joe Arpaio's approach to law enforcement. Flanagan declared that the county needed “very aggressive leadership” to execute the war on drugs. That included harsh prison sentences with limited luxuries—like eating.
“You have to go after these thugs, these punks, and that’s what they are. They’re punks,” Flanagan told a local TV station. “My plan is to make that jail a bare minimum jail. If I can get away with feeding you three apples a day for your three meals that’s what you’re getting.”
His tough talk wasn’t limited to policing. Flanagan took on a new role in September 2017: code enforcer for the town. And as he told a TV reporter after his appointment: “I’m not here to make friends.”
A week on the job, Flanagan ordered one home condemned, served three inspections, and spoke to more than a dozen people, ordering some “to get their yards in order and get the junk cars and get their front porches cleaned up.”
“You just got to stay on them,” Flanagan told WVOT. “You got to follow up. I went to eight houses today. and I'll continue to follow up and make sure they get their house in order.”
His tactics drew criticism. In April, a landlord accused him of kicking in doors of rental properties for inspections.
Bill Valput, owner of Valput Properties, said Flanagan, then the acting chief, damaged his property and had proposed a $100 inspection fee—which town council members said was not even on the books, according to The Intelligencer.
Valput told The Daily Beast that while he supports Flanagan’s police work, he felt the chief had abused his authority as code enforcer.
“Flanagan apparently has a different set of standards that he wants to work by. Since he’s a policeman he feels like he can go into any property at any time he wants, without permission,” Valput said in a phone interview.
“In two cases, he made up the excuse that the door was ajar and ‘since I’m a policeman, I can go in and make sure it was safe.”
“He just makes up the code,” Valput said of Flanagan’s approach to inspections. “He’ll go into your house and say ‘how ’bout painting this wall, how ‘bout this or how bout that, or I’m not going to pass the inspection.”
He continued: “He’s not supposed to be commenting on the decorating, you know. The concern is he has no guideline that he’s following.
“It’s just a total disregard for any due process. His attitude is ‘Since I’m a police officer, I can do pretty much anything I want,’” Valput said.
But Valput also said that Flanagan is “trying very, very hard to make Bellaire a better place,” and the chief has other fans, too.
Jim Piatt, former council member, called him a “good cop.”
“[Flanagan] doesn’t harass anybody,” he said.
Another former council member, Bob Koteles, said Flanagan “is operating his men the right way and everything like that.” Asked whether he approved of the recent hires, Koteles said he didn’t have an opinion, but added: “That would be up to him, anyway, being the chief.”
Flanagan cited his belief in “second chances” as the reason he offered Tamir Rice’s killer, Timothy Loehmann, and the suspended Bethesda chief, Eric Smith, positions protecting his 4,000-person town near the West Virginia border.
Rice was playing with an airgun in a Cleveland park when Loehmann, responding to a 911 call, fired two bullets into the child’s torso, killing him.
A Cuyahoga County grand jury decided not to bring criminal charges against Loehmann but Cleveland police eventually fired him for lying on his job application.
According to authorities, he failed to disclose that his former employer, Independence Police Department, had criticized his “dismal” handgun skills and found him “distracted” and “weepy” during firearms qualification training.
“He could not follow simple directions, could not communicate clear thoughts nor recollections, and his handgun performance was dismal,” the 2014 letter written by Independence, Ohio, Police Deputy Chief Jim Polak said. “I do not believe time, nor training, will be able to change or correct the deficiencies.”
Despite the scathing performance reviews–which included allegations of insubordination and lying–Flanagan hired Loehmann because he thought he deserved a chance to start over.
“He was cleared of any and all wrongdoing,” Flanagan told The Intelligencer on Friday. “He was never charged. It’s over and done with.”
Flanagan told the newspaper he had more “reservations” about hiring Smith, adding he has banned the new police officer from using the computers. “Everyone has got to prove themselves,” he said.
The Intelligencer, which broke the news of Loehmann’s hiring, called it a mistake.
“People who have made mistakes in their lives often earn second chances. Tim Loehmann should not be getting his in Bellaire,” the newspaper said in an editorial.
But Piatt, the ex-council member, said he would not second-guess the chief.
“I leave it up to Dick—Dick knows what he’s doing,” he said.
Victoria Bekiempis contributed reporting