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Euclid police chief ends career amid controversy

The Plain Dealer,
BYLINE: Pat Galbincea, The Plain Dealer
Link to Article

Euclid, OH

Euclid -- Jim Repicky has been a police officer for 32 years, but two of his worst days occurred in the past four years.

Eight months after he was sworn in as police chief in February 2007, a popular police officer, George Brentar, was chasing a speeder when his cruiser hydroplaned into a pole on an entrance ramp to Interstate 90 near East 207th Street and caught fire, killing him.

And it was eight months ago that another well-liked officer, Sgt. Kevin Blakely, shot himself in front of Repicky and two other supervisors after being asked why he hadn't cooperated with an investigation started in January by the Cuyahoga County Sheriff's Office.

Repicky, who has spent 30 of his 32 years on the Euclid police force, retired Dec. 21.

"I'll take with me many good memories when I leave," Repicky said, "but those two are easily the worst two days of my life."

Blakely's suicide, which came so suddenly and unexpectedly on April 20 that Repicky said no one in the room had time to stop him, is a major reason the 56-year-old Repicky is retiring.

On July 10, Euclid Mayor Bill Cervenik named Capt. Tom Brinkman as acting chief, saying Repicky had lost the confidence of his fellow officers because of the Blakely incident.

Since Cervenik's move, Repicky has been overseeing several projects and helping Brinkman with the department's 2012 budget.

In November, the Cuyahoga County Sheriff's Office found that Blakely, a 28-year veteran, had stolen $40,000 in cash from the department's evidence room and had deposited $24,000 meant for the Euclid Fraternal Order of Police into his personal checking account.

In reviewing the sheriff's report, Assistant Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Rick Bell said there was enough evidence to present to a grand jury to have indicted Blakely for theft of both law enforcement trust fund money and police officer union dues.

Despite the report, Repicky critics like Euclid Ward 2 Councilwoman Madeline Scarniench said she hasn't changed her mind.

"No, my opinion of Jim Repicky hasn't changed," she said. "I read the report and still have some doubts. I don't think Kevin worked alone. The report says mismanagement of the evidence room has been going on for years, but it doesn't say how many years.

"We didn't keep good track of records, and the problem starts from the top down. That being said, we have to move on, and I wish the former chief well in his retirement."

As chief, Repicky said he accepted the responsibility but couldn't understand why critics put him on trial without knowing the full story that he could not tell without compromising the investigation.

"It was a bomb that blew up, and I was left trying to pick up the pieces," he said.

Cervenik said that despite the incident with Blakely, Repicky was a good police chief.

"Jim was an asset to the Police Department and our community, and he'll be missed," Cervenik said. "He went through one of the most difficult times a police department can go through -- a situation which makes his retirement more difficult -- but he acted in a professional manner. He is a very good man."

Repicky helped develop an emergency operation plan for the city, had firearms upgraded, and formed a committee that has enabled Euclid to receive nearly $3 million in grants in his time as chief.

He said the biggest highlight of his career was working in the narcotics unit as a detective from 1995 to 1997.

"At that time, it was a whole new world of investigation," Repicky said. "As a detective, you'd start with nothing but a tip and then work your way hoping for an arrest and a conviction."

His narcotics career ended when he was promoted to captain in January 1997.

A humorous serious incident happened in 1981, when three armed men robbed an auto parts store in the winter. Repicky was involved in a high-speed chase until the robbers left the freeway in Willoughby Hills and then tried to run for it. Trouble was, there was a foot of snow on the ground.

"You don't run very far when there is that much snow on the ground," Repicky said. "They also couldn't get their guns out."

Another highlight was meeting President George W. Bush when he visited Lincoln Electric in July 2008.

For now, Repicky will spend time with his wife of 31 years, Christine, plus do volunteer work, golf and fish. A good wrestler at 112 pounds for St. Joseph High School in 1977-78, he has made himself into a low-handicap golfer.

He has not ruled out getting back into police work.

"To say I was disappointed with what happened earlier this year is an understatement," he said, "but I wouldn't rule out working in a police department again. For now, I'm ready to relax. To the public I will say this. They need to trust the Police Department. If there are inadequacies or wrongdoings, we are able to police ourselves."

To reach this Plain Dealer reporter: , 216-999-5159

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