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Bratenahl police chief announces retirement; Falzone embroiled in missing-evidence probe

Plain Dealer (Cleveland)
BYLINE: Mark Puente and Gabriel Baird

Bratenahl, OH

Bratenahl - Embattled Police Chief Paul Falzone retired Tuesday afternoon, two days before a report about guns, drugs and money that went missing under his watch was scheduled to be released.

"I think it's unfortunate that it had to come to this, but our village will move forward," Council President Mary Beckenbach said.

Mayor John Licastro said Falzone did not indicate why he retired, but his attorney said it was because of health problems and a desire to spend more time with family.

Falzone has been on paid leave since December, weeks after The Plain Dealer reported about guns and drugs missing from the Police Department's evidence room. In his resignation letter, Falzone wrote:

I write to inform you that I am tendering my retirement from my position as Chief of Police for the Village of Bratenahl, effective midnight February 28, 2009. Please arrange to compensate me for my earned furlough and sick time. "It has been a honor to work for the Village these past 14 years, and I wish to thank the fine citizens of the Village for affording me the privilege of serving them."

Two hours before Licastro received the letter, Falzone told The Plain Dealer that he was not resigning.

"I would never resign," Falzone said. "I'm not the kind of person who resigns."

The Plain Dealer reported late last year that at least eight guns, thousands of dollars and significant amounts of heroin and cocaine disappeared from the Bratenahl police evidence room. The contraband was seized from suspected criminals but could not later be located.

Also, the book that logs evidence that went into and out of the police property room could not be located.

Falzone started an internal investigation. Last year, the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Identification and Investigation began a probe of the village's property and evidence room, piggybacking on Bratenahl's own internal investigation.

The BCI investigator asked Falzone to order an officer to recreate the evidence log book based on the village's police reports, so he could get a full understanding of what evidence could be accounted for. But Falzone never recreated the log book.

Falzone asked the BCI to conduct polygraph examinations of Bratenahl officers to aid in the internal investigation. When the BCI investigator asked Falzone to sit for one, the chief refused to travel to central Ohio.

Last month, Falzone was scheduled to take a lie-detector test for the state but did not show up, state officials said.

Roger Synenberg, Falzone's lawyer, said the chief did not appear because he was ill. A new date has not been set, Synenberg said. The state's probe remains open and investigators are expected to turn over their findings to the Cuyahoga County prosecutor, BCI officials said.

The village hired former Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Judge Richard Lillie to conduct an investigation after the stories appeared. He was expected to present his findings Thursday evening to village officials, but Licastro said Tuesday that the findings would be postponed.

Synenberg said the chief retired because he wanted to explore other things in his life after a long career in law enforcement. "It was time to put a 40-year career behind him," Synenberg said. "He leaves with a lot of dignity and respect for the job." Synenberg acknowledged the investigation has caused Falzone some stress, along with the need to travel out of state to visit a sick relative. "This has been somewhat wearing on him as well," Synenberg said.

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