Portage County Sheriff's Department/FB
The largest cities in Portage County have filed a lawsuit alleging the county and its sheriff have refused to share seized money and assets from a defunct drug task force.
The case lays bare a strained relationship between local and county officials who once worked as a team with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency to disrupt the flow and sale of illegal drugs.
With discovery underway, a pre-trial conference is set for March 8 in a case filed by the cities of Kent, Ravenna and Streetsboro in the Portage County Court of Common Pleas. The cities are asking retired Judge Janet R. Burnside to force Sheriff Bruce Zuchowski to account for and share the equipment, property and funds left over when the sheriff allegedly pulled his deputies out of the Portage County Drug Task Force. It is unclear how much money and what assets are at stake.
In November 2021, after less than a year on the job, Zuchowski met with partners on the task force, which included the city of Aurora and the village of Hiram. Zuchowski told the chiefs he would no longer participate, according to the complaint. County Prosecutor Victor V. Vigluicci, representing the sheriff in court, denies that claim but admits that the assets exist.
Established at the height of the opioid epidemic by Zuchowski’s predecessor
, the task force ramped up the seizure of heroin, marijuana and other narcotics. Local police departments now dedicate detectives to work with neighboring jurisdictions and the DEA on drug cases.
This article was published in partnership with The Marshall Project, a nonprofit news organization covering the U.S. criminal justice system. Sign up for their newsletters, and follow them on Instagram, TikTok, Reddit and Facebook.