Jul. 8, 2013

SPD's DeSalle in sticky situation amid tobacco allegation

A Sandusky police officer caught last year with 50 grams of methamphetamine in his locker is now on administrative leave for apparently chewing tobacco on duty and denying it, police said.

Supervisors placed James DeSalle, a 12-year veteran, on paid leave Wednesday and scheduled him for a pre-disciplinary hearing at 2 p.m. Monday.

In question is a Nov. 5 domestic call at an East Shoreway Drive home, where another officer twice saw DeSalle spit a dark-brown substance on the ground while leaving the home.

When supervisors later asked him if he was chewing tobacco, DeSalle denied it and said he was allergic to a cat in the home, police said.

A video camera in DeSalle’s police cruiser recorded footage of him spitting a substance onto the ground, police said.

Confronted with the video, DeSalle denied he’d been chewing tobacco on duty.

Sandusky prohibits its police officers from using tobacco products on duty.

DeSalle told officers he had tobacco in his mouth only when he was outside his cruiser at a First Street address, according to a pre-disciplinary letter his supervisors sent him.

But the video footage doesn’t support that, the letter said.

“It’s very unprofessional and I’m trying to raise the professional bar (in the department),” Sandusky interim police Chief Jim Lang said.

Lang, who plans to conduct the hearing, declined to speak specifically about DeSalle’s case, but said allegations of this nature could result in an officer being placed on unpaid leave.

More troubling, perhaps, are DeSalle’s past reprimands.

In July 2009, DeSalle was replaced as the handler of Justice, Sandusky’s police dog.

He’d been in charge of Justice for about a year but was reassigned after repeatedly requesting time off at night and weekends, when the police dog is used the most, Lang said.

While reassigning DeSalle, supervisors inventoried his locker and discovered 50 grams of methamphetamine.

The drugs, according to DeSalle’s personnel file, had never been assigned to him.

DeSalle told his supervisors he was using the drugs to train the police dog and intended to notify them about the methamphetamines, but never got around to it.

It’s unknown why DeSalle needed 50 grams of meth to train the dog, rather than just a gram or two.

When the Register reported on DeSalle’s reassignment at the time, then-interim police Chief Charlie Sams had said supervisors were investigating other possible improprieties by DeSalle, though they declined to specify what those were.

According to law enforcement officials, a typical “one-hit” dose of meth is one-fourth of a gram. A gram of meth sells on the street for about $100, making the street value of 50 grams about $5,000.

Three months after that incident, DeSalle received a written reprimand for failing to turn on his cruiser’s video camera during calls. His personnel file noted it was the fourth such incident for him in 2009.

His personnel file also shows he drove recklessly last fall — about 47 mph in a 25 mph zone — while responding to a non-emergency call about a mattress and box spring in the middle of Milan Road.

DeSalle told his supervisors he was concerned someone could have been hurt.

According to Sandusky Municipal Court records, DeSalle has also had a history of money problems with financial, medical and utility companies. A government agency also garnished some of his wages, his personnel file shows.

In regard to DeSalle’s earlier performance, Lang said he doesn’t let an officer’s past cloud his judgment when evaluating an incident now in question.

“I want to give everyone a fair, honest chance,” Lang said.

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