REYNOLDSBURG, Ohio (WCMH) — The police union is stepping in after NBC4 Investigates exposed allegations of a hostile work environment at the Reynoldsburg Division of Police.

Fraternal Order of Police Lodge President Jeff Simpson said he saw NBC4’s reporting on claims of unequal discipline and fears of retaliation, so he went to Reynoldsburg police headquarters to see for himself what was going on. What he saw, he said, left him deeply troubled.

“There are bound to be a few people — keyword, a few — a handful of people that aren’t happy and don’t agree with change and everything like that. I understand that,” said one of six current Reynoldsburg police officers who spoke to NBC4 in late December under the condition of anonymity. “But when you have the majority of people looking at, there’s a problem, then there’s a problem.”

“I saw the interviews,” Simpson said Thursday. “That’s when I was first made aware.”

Prior to the report, which aired in January, Simpson had only heard what he called “rumblings.”

“You get rumblings. It’s hard as a union leader, or a police leader,” said Simpson. “It’s hard to be totally accepted, liked.”

After he was re-elected union president and appointed new representatives in the new year, Simpson said, “It was time to go out there, meet the people, let them know who their new grievance representative is. So I actually went out there to see what was going on myself — to get a temperature for myself.”

On March 8, Simpson visited a morning roll call at Reynoldsburg police headquarters, which he explained is something he does frequently and is allowed by the union contract. He said leadership was aware he was coming.

“My play was to hear from the members, approach the chief and say, ‘Hey, this is what i’m getting–’ not naming names or anything like that,” Simpson said. “But I think 20 minutes into the roll call, I could tell that this issue was real and tangible.”

Simpson said he heard complaints of a toxic work environment from a group of more than a dozen officers during the closed-door meeting, but what disturbed him the most was how the meeting was ended by Deputy Chief Rhonda Grizzell.

“We were abruptly told to stop, and not in a nice way — in a very unprofessional manner. And the officers were herded out, chastised, yelled at, and the meeting was over,” Simpson said.

In an email, Reynoldsburg Police Chief Curtis Baker told NBC4, “During the time of the meeting, there were four active school zones that needed to be monitored and two calls for service that came in and were holding without an immediate police response.” 

According to Simpson, it is not uncommon during a meeting like this for police command staff to ask him to end the meeting in order to get officers on the streets.

“If there’s too much time taken — I’m always cognizant of that because there’s always runs that need to be taken and when that happens, I’m asked to just wrap it up,” he explained. “This was not, ‘Hey, let’s wrap it up.’ It was a turbulent reaction.”

Simpson confronted Grizzell after officers left. He was reluctant to provide details on the conversation, explaining that he still hopes to resolve the issues for officers, but readily admitted tempers escalated. He said he and Grizzell exchanged profanities, and said the deputy chief threatened to have him arrested if he did not leave.

“I wasn’t going anywhere. We should never resort to that. I am not above the law, but I am allowed to meet with my members,” Simpson said.

Simpson said he spoke with Chief Curtis Baker immediately after the conflict.

“It was a good meeting as far as what we talked about. It’s unclear where we go in the future. That’s what worries me,” Simpson said. “It’s my impression that the heels are pretty much dug in.

“No one’s perfect but this has reached a chronic point now, to where there’s no doubt in my mind, to what the officers are complaining about — this cannot be dismissed as a few people that just don’t like my policies. Which, sometimes that is the case,” he said. “This here is unequivocally not the case. This is a case here where there’s a culture issue with leadership, that these officers are being treated like dirt.”

Baker disputed Simpson’s characterizations of the way officers were addressed.

“I spoke to an officer who attended the meeting. The officer did not indicate that officers were ‘dehumanized’ or ‘treated like dirt.’ What the officer did indicate is that FOP President Simpson started yelling at DC Grizzell and used profanities after she requested the officers return to duty so they could respond to pending requests for service from the public,” Baker wrote. “(Deputy Chief) Grizzell has an obligation to ensure our officers are responding to citizen’s requests for police response. I fully support DC Grizzell and her actions on that day.”

Simpson said he plans to follow up with Baker and Reynoldsburg’s mayor.