The Outlaw State 

A Scene investigation reveals widespread failure to enforce public safety laws.

Bakery table loungers -- like the one being arrested - here -- "will not be tolerated," says Fairview Park - Police Captain Richard Deem.
  • Bakery table loungers -- like the one being arrested here -- "will not be tolerated," says Fairview Park Police Captain Richard Deem.
Ohio law enforcement is turning a blind eye to criminal activity statewide -- that's the conclusion of a recent investigation by Scene. Our exhaustive half-hour probe uncovered evidence that authorities are systematically ignoring a vast range of state statutes. More disturbing still, when confronted with their negligence, police agencies across Northeast Ohio seemed brazenly unconcerned -- or were outright mocking of our I-Team reporters.

According to an exclusive copy of the Ohio Revised Code obtained by Scene, dozens of statutes have been ignored by police for decades. Among the most flagrant examples is a law that states no person shall "lie or lounge upon any of the tables" in a bakery.

Scene's analysis of arrest reports in Ohio's 88 counties indicates that not a single offender has been taken into custody for violating the law since its passage in 1953. In response, we sent undercover reporters into several area bakeries. Our cameras caught harrowing scenes of employees leaning upon tables and counters with near-reckless abandon. Despite the widespread violations, our I-Team witnessed only one cop patrolling the bakeries, and he was ordering a dozen éclairs -- oblivious to a young customer only a few feet away, who actually sat upon a table as she read Giggle, Giggle, Quack.

But when Scene confronted police agencies with evidence of their lax enforcement, they reacted as if we were the ones with the problem. Typical was the response of Dan Pukach, chief deputy of the Cuyahoga County Sheriff's Office, who boldly admitted, "I don't foresee a sweep of bakeries."

We pressed Pukach to explain how authorities could ignore state law and rip out the very heart of the democratic process. Only then did he pledge to tackle the problem. "On my way home tonight, I'm going to stop at Mazzone's Bakery, and the first guy I catch lounging on a table, his ass is mine," he vowed.

Scene's team coverage exposed equally laid-back policing of a law that requires drivers to give an "audible signal" when passing another vehicle on a two-lane road. We staked out State Route 21 near Brecksville to watch whether motorists were obeying Statute 4511.27. Our exclusive surveillance left us wondering whether we were in a Cleveland suburb or the outskirts of Beirut.

Throughout the afternoon, cars raced past each other with near-reckless abandon, as drivers signaled their intent to pass using only blinkers and upraised middle fingers. Over the course of 13 minutes, we recorded dozens of drivers breaking the audible-signal law. The lone exception was a car full of apparently drunken teenagers, who passed us as we headed back to HQ in the I-Team SUV. As one young man in the car mooned us, the driver honked and yelled, "Investigate this!"

Not a single driver was pulled over -- a chilling but common occurrence, critics say. Yet, in a typical example of bureaucratic buck-passing, Lieutenant Monte Morgan of the Ohio State Highway Patrol complained that apprehending every motorist who fails to honk "would be impossible." When pressed as to why the Highway Patrol cannot monitor every inch of the state's byways, Morgan said only, "Think about it."

Not every offense is so out in the open. For instance, Scene discovered a statute that prohibits brothels from serving alcohol -- even though houses of ill-repute have been banned in Ohio for decades.

At first glance, a liquor crackdown on such institutions would appear pointless. But through exclusive I-Team calculations, Scene estimates that Ohio's failure to levy fines on nonexistent brothels has cost the state $5.3 trillion. Yet when pressed to explain the lack of citations in his city, Lakewood Police Captain Douglas Sabala answers with twisted logic: "If someone is running a brothel, there are bigger issues than whether they're serving alcohol."

Likewise, Ohio has shown its negligence in enforcing a law that states no goods made by a blind person can be sold unless the products bear a warning label that discloses the person's handicap. In fact, the I-Team has learned that the state turns a "blind eye" to these sightless desperados: No state agency even keeps statistics on the crime.

Scene hoped to press the attorney general's office for an exclusive explanation of this "oversight," but our messages went unreturned. Instead, we pressed Shaker Heights Police Chief Walter Ugrinic, who brushed away concerns. "I feel very confident that people can rest easy on this. There's nothing to worry about."

Surprisingly, state legislators -- members of the same august body that passed the laws in question -- endorse this sloppy police work. Representative Jim Trakas (R-Independence) says authorities need to devote manpower to more violent crimes. When pressed to cite a more destructive behavior than table lounging, the House majority whip became defensive: "Almost anything, I'd think."

Yet in response to the I-Team's report, some law enforcement agencies have vowed to get tough. In Lakewood, where the omnipresent police force "makes me feel like I've entered East Berlin," says former German Chancellor Helmut Kohl, Sabala is preparing for the worst. "If people leaning on bakery tables starts to affect the quality of life here, we will take any action necessary to make sure that doesn't happen."

Adds Fairview Park Police Captain Richard Deem: "Bakery loungers will not be tolerated."

The Ohio Division of Wildlife also intends to reel in anglers who break a law that bans the use of quicklime to catch fish. In a Scene exclusive, spokesman Bill Beagle revealed that the agency would consider infiltrating area gangs if they're suspected of dumping the chemical compound into Ohio's waters.

"We'll be on the lookout for these . . . these quicklimers."

More by Martin Kuz


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