Repeat Offender

Officer Ralph Flynn has a bad habit of hitting ladies -- and getting away with it.

Cuyahoga Falls child abuse cop stories
Sonja Butcher demanded answers.

As her boyfriend sat behind the wheel, driving the pair toward her home in Norton, Butcher asked why his divorce was taking so long.

They'd been together for a year and a half, she griped, and he still hadn't pitched in for a single bill. She was sick of playing second fiddle to his wife and two daughters. When was it going to end? When would they really be together?

Ralph Flynn didn't like her gripes. She aired them as often as episodes of Law & Order. It was pressure that a man in the middle of a divorce didn't need. When they returned to her house, Flynn began to pack.

That only fueled Butcher's ire. She began shoving him away from his duffel bag, begging him to talk. Flynn shoved back, telling her to calm down. She responded by throwing his things out the bedroom window.

As Flynn headed to the car, Butcher followed, swatting at his back, his car -- anything to get his attention. Finally, Flynn snapped.

He threw Butcher to the driveway pavement, pinned her down, and punched her in the mouth. It was a scene worthy of a Lifetime special, though the audience consisted of only two elderly neighbors, Jerry McElroy and Donald Kraft, who quickly phoned police.

When the cops arrived, Flynn's T-shirt was speckled with Butcher's blood. Still, he appeared as sorely beaten as Butcher. Both were treated by medics before being charged with domestic violence. They eventually pleaded no contest to disorderly conduct.

For Flynn, a 37-year-old Cuyahoga Falls cop, it would prove a bad career move. From the time he started working for the department in 1997, he had not a single stain on his record, other than falling asleep on duty or fudging a few reports out of sheer laziness. Hitting women, however, would not be tolerated. "Clearly this behavior on the part of Officer Flynn is unacceptable for anyone, let alone a police officer," Captain Tom Pozza wrote in a memo. "In my opinion, Flynn's behavior was extreme in nature."

Mayor Don Robart gave Flynn an option: Take a two-week suspension and anger-management classes, or be fired. Flynn chose the latter. "He needed some help with anger management," says Chief John Conley. "He chose not to get any counseling, so the mayor went ahead and terminated him. All he had to do was go to counseling."

Flynn filed a grievance; he was merely defending himself against Butcher and suffered far more injuries, he claimed. The witnesses were two old men who didn't see much, he argued, and a minor misdemeanor was not a fireable offense. Butcher even appeared at his arbitration hearing to downplay the incident. (Flynn declined to be interviewed for this story.)

Surprisingly, arbitrator Ronald Talarico ordered that Flynn be reinstated with back pay.

For the next two years, there was never a hint that the domestic free-for-all was anything more than an isolated incident. With his divorce finalized, things improved with Butcher, and his work was "above average," Chief Conley says.

Then, on June 8, Norton Police were called to Akron Children's Hospital. Amy Flynn, the officer's ex-wife, sat with her two daughters, ages 10 and 12, in an examining room.

The girls told police they'd been visiting their dad, when he lost his temper. Ralph Flynn hit his youngest in the head and legs, and gave his oldest a broken arm. He was charged with domestic violence.

Chief Conley's hands were tied. He couldn't fire or even suspend Flynn unless he was convicted of a felony, according to department regulations. "Right now, because there is an internal disciplinary action pending, I have no comment on this most recent incident," Conley says.

It seemed that once again the cards were stacked in Flynn's favor.

But last month, prosecutors decided the girls' injuries were enough to warrant felony charges. A grand jury indicted him on four counts of domestic violence and felonious assault.

Since his father, Ralph Flynn Sr., works as an investigator for the Summit County prosecutor's office, the attorney general's office was called in to try the case.

As Flynn awaits trial, he has taken a voluntary unpaid leave. "My client has, since the beginning, maintained his innocence and will continue to do so," says his attorney, Michael Callahan.

Exactly how he'll find an excuse for putting two little girls in the hospital remains to be seen. But Flynn seems to understand the fine psychology of domestic-violence victims. After all, his first victim turned out to be his greatest supporter.

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