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Emails detail I-Team's search for answers

By simply demanding a copy of the final police report in the death of Laura Gast, the I-Team’s Brendan Keefe discovered the file was being kept from prosecutors.
by Maxim Alter on 7 July 2014

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Transcript of Emails detail I-Team's search for answers

Mr. Pfeffer, Mr. Grimes;

We are officially requesting prompt inspection and copies of any and all reports or documents related to the death of Laura (Fizer) Gast in the Village of Aberdeen, including but not limited to the final report completed by the Aberdeen Police Department.

Often when we request police reports, agencies respond that such reports are specifically exempted from Ohio’s public records law under a CLEIRs exception (confidential law enforcement investigatory records exemption). That is NOT a blanket exemption, but rather one specifically carved out for ongoing criminal investigations by the agency holding the records, not for completed investigations of a non-criminal nature, or those turned over to another agency.


From: Daniel J. "Woody" Breyer
Sent: Sunday, June 01, 2014 11:24 AM
To: Keefe, Brendan
Subject: RE: Aberdeen Police

Brendan:
The only thing I have ever seen is autopsy report from Montgomery County. I obtained this when I was in Dayton talking with the coroner about the Brown County jail hanging. I talked with Nikolas once on the phone and was under the impression he was going to forward me all materials on the investigation. I never received anything.
On another note, the Ohio Supreme Court has denied jurisdiction on both of Julian Steele’s pending appeals. I will attempt to set a date in front of Judge Ghiz in order to have Steele sentenced and hopefully imprisoned.

Woody

THE REQUEST TO ABERDEEN POLICE
RESPONSE FROM
ABERDEEN'S FISCAL OFFICER
From: Nathan Pfeffer
Sent: Friday, May 30, 2014 4:32 PM
To: Keefe, Brendan; David Grimes
Subject: RE: Public Records Request

This is to acknowledge that I received your public records request for the reports of documents relating to the death of Laura Gast. Officer Nickolas has informed me that the original files are with BCI and we do not have copies. We may be able to obtain copies from BCI but I want to check with our solicitor first.
From: Keefe, Brendan
Sent: Friday, May 30, 2014 5:15 PM
To: Daniel J. "Woody" Breyer
Subject: Aberdeen Police

Woody,
Two things:
1) Aberdeen is about to fire its police chief, Greg Caudill (Monday's council meeting)
2) They're claiming that you and BCI have the only copy of the Laura Gast death investigation reports
See the exchange below with the records custodian.

Brendan Keefe
REQUEST TO THE
SPECIAL PROSECUTOR
HIS RESPONSE
WE SENT HIS REPLY TO ABERDEEN. HERE'S WHAT THE VILLAGE LAWYER HAD TO SAY:
Brendan

I have been informed Aberdeen PD does have a complete file regarding Laura Gast. I have called Breyer and left a message. I do not know why he does not have a copy of what BCI received but Aberdeen intends to give him what they have. Until the AG’s office (and any other office involved in an investigation) says their investigation is over, Aberdeen will not make this file available to the public.

David E. Grimes
Law Office of David E. Grimes
THEN WE ASKED THE OHIO ATTORNEY GENERAL'S OFFICE THIS:
From: Keefe, Brendan
Sent: Sunday, June 01, 2014 3:33 PM
To: Jill Del Greco
Subject: BCI Question

Jill,

I've been working on a case since last September about the death of a former police chief's wife. I think you and I talked about it briefly last fall.

The victim's name was Laura (Fizer) Gast. She died in August 2013. Her death was ruled suicide by the Brown County Coroner, who herself is facing removal from office.

The question is whether BCI ever received the final investigation report and the 'file' from Aberdeen Police.

The special prosecutor whom you know, Woody Breyer, says he asked APD for the file and never received it. Aberdeen told me Friday that their Sgt. Nickolas sent the file and final report to BCI and never kept a copy, and that's why they're not giving us anything in response to a public records request.

Highly-placed sources are telling me that BCI is investigating this case. Bottom line: I don't want to accuse Aberdeen Police of losing the file if they did indeed send everything to BCI.

The current police chief at the center of this investigation is about to get fired at a council meeting on Monday. That, and the coroner's situation, are about to put this death and possible cover-up in the news again.

I know certain BCI issues are top secret, but any guidance you can offer would be helpful!

THANKS!

Brendan Keefe | I-Team Anchor & Chief Investigator

THEIR RESPONSE?
From: Jill Del Greco
Sent: Monday, June 2, 2014 4:56 PM
To: Keefe, Brendan
Subject: RE: BCI Question

Brendan,
I checked with BCI and Special Prosecutions and neither section has the file.
BCI is not investigating. Special Prosecutions agreed to review the case, but since we have not received the file that obviously has not happened yet. Both BCI and Special Prosecutions said that they do not accept original case files.

Jill Del Greco
Public Information Officer - Communications
Office of Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine
THE VERY SAME DAY THE ATTORNEY GENERAL'S OFFICE TOLD US THEY DIDN'T KNOW WHO HAD LAURA GAST'S DEATH FILE, OFFICER MATT NICKOLAS WALKED INTO THE SPECIAL PROSECUTOR'S OFFICE AND TURNED IT OVER -- SIX MONTHS AFTER HE SUPPOSEDLY COMPLETED THE INVESTIGATION.
SO WE WENT BACK TO ABERDEEN FOR ANSWERS
From: Keefe, Brendan
Sent: Monday, June 02, 2014 5:20 PM
To: David Grimes
Cc: Nathan Pfeffer
Subject: Re: BCI Question

Mr. Grimes, Mr. Pfeffer;

See the below response from the attorney general's office.

Now both BCI and the special prosecutor say officially and in writing that they have NOT received either the original or a copy of the case file/final report of Laura Gast's death investigation. The Brown County Prosecutor confirms she has not received it either.

Additionally, BCI confirms in the below email that it is NOT INVESTIGATING.

There should be no further hurdle to releasing a copy of this public record without delay.

We and Laura's sister have been told repeatedly by the village that the death investigation is complete and was sent to 'the prosecutor' and/or BCI. Now we know that is not true. We both were told that there was no copy at the village, and only when we indicated that we were prepared to put on the news that the report was missing did a copy of the investigation mysteriously appear at the village, along with a complete denial of our PRR without any exception claimed under the ORC.

This appears to be further evidence of an on-going cover-up by APD with the village aiding and abetting that cover-up.

Please let us know when a copy of the report is available and when the file is available for prompt inspection as required by the ORC.

Thank you.

Brendan Keefe | I-Team Anchor & Chief Investigator
THE EMAILS
THE EMAILS
CLICK THE RIGHT ARROW TO CONTINUE
CONTINUE CLICKING RIGHT
From the ORC and the AG’s Sunshine Manual:

An investigation is only considered a “law enforcement matter” if it meets each prong of the following 3-part test:
(a) Has an Investigation Been Initiated Upon Specific Suspicion of Wrongdoing?
(b) Does the Alleged Conduct Violate Criminal, Quasi-criminal, Civil, or Administrative Law?
(c) Does the Public Office Have the Authority to Investigate or Enforce the Law Allegedly Violated?

The death of Laura (Fizer Gast) at 151 Bramel Drive fails ALL THREE of these tests:

1. It has been ruled a suicide by the county coroner, who under Ohio law has the final say on the determination of manner of death. So there is no “specific suspicion of wrongdoing” by any third party.

2. The alleged conduct does not violate any criminal or civil law (by any living person likely to be charged).

3. The public office, Aberdeen Police, is not currently investigating the death (even if others are, Aberdeen is not, therefore it has ceded its investigative and enforcement authority – records maintained by an agency remain public even if other agencies may be able to claim a CLEIRs exemption for their records or copies thereof).

While the burden is not on us to show why a document is public, we wanted to supply you with as much guidance since a request for a suicide report is unusual. If certain information is claimed under other exemptions, it can be redacted in the copy provided to us.

Please let us know when this report is available for inspection and when copies are prepared. We would prefer an electronic copy sent by email to bkeefe@wcpo.com

Thank you.

Brendan Keefe | I-Team Anchor & Chief Investigator
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