The Brockwell fire was the latest in a series of headlines dragging Woodmere through the mud, most of them dealing with the disastrous rein of Yolanda Broadie. The longtime mayor, Broadie was directly responsible for a legal standoff that put the village on the hook for millions and earned the town a racist rap.
The problems began in the mid-2000s, when Broadie, who is African American, fired two white cops for minor reasons but let black officers walk for more serious infractions. When then-Police Chief LaMont Lockhart stood up against the mayor, she criticized his job performance — which until the confrontation had been spotless. The village and Broadie ended up in court. The U.S. Department of Justice sued the village for discrimination, and so did the fired officers. (See "Racism Reversed" at clevescene.com.)
Lockhart, who left the city to take over as the chief of police for Cleveland's Regional Transit Authority, also hit the city and Broadie with a federal suit.
At the time, Brockwell says, she became increasingly isolated on council — and not just because she was the lone Caucasian in the group. She gave a deposition to the Department of Justice about the racism she'd seen from the mayor and her supporters. Throughout 2007, she pushed for a settlement of the Lockhart suit — an option that could have cost the city as little as $50,000. But the rest of council dug in their heels with the mayor.
Brockwell's honesty earned her enemies. She began receiving threatening phone calls to her house. In the middle of the night, she claims, police cruisers would roll by and shine a spotlight through her front bedroom window. Once, when she was coming home from work, she found a cruiser parked in front of her house. Behind the wheel was Masai Brown, a black cop who'd remained on the force despite a track record that included shooting at a hooker from his car, watching online porn at work, and trying to get other cops to cover up for his missteps. Now Brown was outside Brockwell's house, staring her down as she pulled up.
Despite the intimidation, Brockwell went to court every day for Lockhart's trial in December 2008. She sat on the former chief's side of the room, letting her allegiance be known. She was there when the federal jury handed down a verdict in Lockhart's favor. Mayor Broadie, meanwhile, was hit with $1.2 million in punitive damages; the city was on the hook for $800,000.
With the discrimination suits now in the rearview mirror, it seemed Woodmere's political waters would settle. "It was pretty quiet from December to June," Brockwell says today. "Then the fire happened."
After the blaze, Brockwell faced reelection for her council seat in November. She and her daughter were camped out at a local motel, preparing to build a new house on the scorched lot. But the thought of fighting through an election season in embittered Woodmere was too much. So she called it quits.
Brockwell's neighbors had different ideas. They circulated a petition, got the necessary signatures to get Brockwell on the ballot, and asked her to stick it out. She reluctantly agreed, but refused to knock on doors or court the vote.
She was reelected anyway — although, this being Woodmere, the '09 election went down as one of the dirtiest in county history.
"They could have used a better picture of me," Stu Lecht jokes one afternoon recently, pointing to a single piece of paper.
Short and squat, his bald head and single ear stud reflecting the overhead lighting of a busy coffee shop, Lecht is telling his story as the perpetually scorned suitor of the Woodmere political scene. He's run for office a handful of times in the past decade, always unsuccessfully. When he's not drumming up votes, Lecht is a no-nonsense village hall regular, often vocally bashing council for what he deems chronic ineffectiveness. This gruff reputation has put a target on his back, and anonymous enemies took aim at Lecht when his name appeared on the 2009 ballot. The paper in his hand is the result.
That year, Lecht was up for mayor in a field crowded with three other candidates. Days before voters trucked to the polls, Woodmere residents found fliers stuffed in their mailboxes. Fashioned in the style of an FBI "Wanted" poster but with the word "Unwanted" swapped in its place, the paper displayed the pictures and names of four Woodmere candidates. Lecht's photo topped the list. The text accompanying his snapshot ran: "Ex-convict for Mayor? Why is Stuart Henry Lecht not mentioning his criminal record? He must have been a leader in prison. What's he got to hide?"
"I've never been charged with a crime in my life," says Lecht, who previously worked in law enforcement and totes a binder of certificates and letters of recommendation he considers proof of it. "Anyone can look into that."
Brushing off slung mud was nothing new for Lecht. In fact, mere criminal allegations paled in comparison to the usual race baiting he put up with. Throughout his political career, he says, he's often picked up the phone and heard that "Whitey" or the "Jew" needed to get out of Woodmere.
But the flier took its racial swipes too. One of the other targeted candidates was Brockwell. Instead of her picture, it showed the image of a noose next to the following lines: "Loaded Lisa Brockwell. Tell it like it really happened. School bus driver yesterday. Arsonist today. KKK tomorrow. Will she target your house next?"
The propaganda's tone sent many villagers — including Brockwell — to town hall to file police reports. According to files obtained by Scene, a police investigation yielded a lead from the start: A police report dated November 4, 2009, says that three days earlier, a Woodmere patrolman was parked on the edge of Roselawn, the residential side street branching from Chagrin Road where Brockwell lived. He noticed a black GMC Envoy creeping down the road with its headlights dark and making occasional stops before mailboxes. When the officer turned around to approach the vehicle, it drove off. He copied down the license plate number.
When the officer approached the mailboxes, according to his statement, he found the blue flier slamming Stuart Lecht, Lisa Brockwell, and two other candidates. He ran the license tag of the Envoy; it came back as a match for the vehicle registered to Woodmere's then-council president, Carolyn Patrick.
The Woodmere detective's report concluded that all signs pointed to the female driver of Patrick's Envoy. "The paper appears to be the same blue and yellow paper purchased by the Village of Woodmere for official business and possibly could have been taken from the Village supplies," he added.
As 2010 began, the investigation was forwarded to the Cuyahoga County Sheriff's Department, in light of potential conflicts of interest regarding Patrick's position on council. Notes from the investigation show that the sheriff's detective assigned to the case picked up the Woodmere PD's evidence at the end of January and sought the opinion of the county prosecutor, who "indicated that the flier in itself did not warrant a criminal investigation but with the current open arson investigation it should be investigated as a possible connection or lead."
According to the notes, the investigation didn't pick up steam until October, when detectives approached Patrick and her husband about the fliers. Both denied any role. Fingerprints were taken, but the results didn't match a partial print found on the flier. (Reached by phone, Patrick's husband said his wife declined comment for this story.)
The investigation again slowed when the Woodmere prosecutor opted out due to the same conflict of interest and a special prosecutor was assigned in December. Finally, in April 2011, after reviewing the investigation, the special prosecutor concluded "no criminal prosecution is warranted" and that a crime "would be difficult to prove under the existing fact pattern." (The officer who spotted Patrick's car has been placed on administrative leave for undisclosed reasons, according to village officials.)
The whole time, as Brockwell rebuilt her home and tried to move on, she continued to serve on council with people she no longer trusted.