PR debacle: Not-so-secret report topples local police chief

A scandalous story unfolded in my neighborhood in recent weeks. It has all the elements of a made-for-TV movie, which may explain why the rise and fall of Chief David Oliver remained a Page 1 story — and a PR nightmare — for a fortnight.

Chief David Oliver's celebrity included a popular Facebook page and this book, "No Mopes Allowed."

Chief David Oliver’s celebrity included a popular Facebook page and this book.

It’s the story of a man once dubbed “the most popular cop on the Internet.” Oliver, from tiny Brimfield Township, Ohio, used social media and an affable personality to become bigger than life. At one point he had 80,000 followers on Facebook and a hot-selling book. He’d also been the focus of dozens of national media stories, most praising his sense of humor and no-nonsense approach to crime.

It all came apart when the community learned, pretty much without warning, that its local crime-fighting hero was a self-centered bully and a sexist boss who abused his staff. Day after day, the chief’s mistreatment of subordinates was spotlighted in local news media.

The story came to light thanks to a courageous second-year officer named Crystal Casterline. A single mother of 4, she’d simply had enough of Oliver’s physical and verbal abuse. She hired a lawyer and filed a complaint. That complaint triggered the investigation that ended the chief’s career.

A wrap-up story on the fall of David Oliver appeared just this morning in the Akron Beacon Journal.¬† It provides a fine summary of the past two weeks’ events. Kudos to the ABJ’s Phil Trexler for some tenacious reporting.

Partners in the PR disaster

The chief’s conduct is inexcusable and his banishment from the department justified. But the ensuing public relations disaster belongs as much to township trustees as the chief himself. The trustees’ attempt to hide details from public view began with the hiring of outside legal counsel to investigate the allegations against Oliver. Trustees wrongly believed that using outside counsel would afford them attorney-client privilege, thus allowing them to shield the report from public scrutiny.

It didn’t work.

After reviewing the report, the trustees meted out a paltry 2-week suspension, after which they said Oliver would return to his duties as chief. That wrist slap was all it took for Brimfield officers to call bullshit. Casterline went public with her story in a 3-hour media interview with Trexler. Other officers followed, corroborating the charges. Once the secret was out, Oliver had no choice but to tender his resignation for what he says are “medical reasons.”

Since January 12th this ugly story remained a primary focus of media coverage throughout Northeast Ohio. Why? Because the Brimfield Board of Trustees decided that secrecy was preferable to transparency. We can all be thankful that the press, particularly Trexler and the ABJ, stuck with the story until the truth came out.

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I met the chief last year when he spoke on a panel discussion at the YouToo Social Media Conference at Kent State. He was, indeed, bigger than life, and most everyone in the room was captivated by his faux authenticity. It reminds me of that classic New Yorker cartoon: On the Internet, nobody knows you’re a dog.

2 thoughts on “PR debacle: Not-so-secret report topples local police chief

  1. Hope you don’t mind a late comment, but I just stumbled across this post and couldn’t resist chiming in. I’m encouraged that the ABJ brought home the win. My win is that shrinking newsrooms will eventually lack the resources to support journalists along such relentless pursuits of truth. Already, credible sources are becoming difficult to recognize, as pseudo journalism competes with the Fourth Estate in the same digital space. I know this all too well because my 22-year-old son and I frequently argue about credibility and attribution. It’s frustrating and worrisome. I hope ABJ’s business model is sustainable and that other newspapers figure it out, too. By the way, I love that New Yorker cartoon. Ironically, it’s the same age as my son. :)

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