Internal investigation finds North Royalton officer did not falsify police report and had probable cause to make arrest
North Royalton – An internal investigation of a North Royalton police officer found the officer was justified in making an arrest of a 22-year-old for operating a vehicle while impaired and there was no intent to falsify a police report.
The internal report did find that Officer Steve Zahursky violated general duties for staying silent in court when asked by a Parma Municipal Court Judge to describe the behaviors he wrote about in his report when viewing the defendant’s cell phone video.
“He remained silent and did not identify the behavior,” wrote Lt. Jim Cutler, who conducted the internal investigation.
Zahursky also told Lt. Cutler and the police chief that he remained silent in court because he did not want to get in an argument with the judge and he felt the judge was sounding “more like a defense attorney. ”
Lt. Cutler stated, “the court mistakenly took his silence as being due it simply not occurring, when in fact it did.”
Cutler added he watched the video.
” I was able to watch the video and identify the behavior. Officer Zahursky should have been able to as well by referring to his report and field notes, if necessary,” Cutler stated in the report.
Zahursky received a one-day suspension without pay.
The city’s law director told Fox 8 that the North Royalton police chief and Zahursky also agreed that in the event it is determined that his actions constitute criminal conduct the city can impose further and additional discipline.
A special prosecutor has been appointed to investigate the officer.
Last month, the FOX 8 I-Team broke the story that Parma Municipal Court Judge Timothy Gilligan wrote an opinion Oct. 24 saying Zahursky’s report on the arrest of Austin Smith-Skinner, 22, contained numerous inaccuracies and falsehoods.
Judge Gilligan further wrote in his judgment entry that “such dishonesty stains the badge of all courageous police officers dedicated to protect and serve.”
Smith-Skinner was arrested in April on several charges including OVI. All charges against him were dismissed.
His attorney, Tony Manning, is upset with the department’s discipline. Manning said he believes Zahursky is guilty of perjury.
“He caused the imprisonment, the jailing of a citizen, an innocent person,” Manning said.
Cutler wrote in his report that he tried to speak with Manning and Smith-Skinner but they declined.
Manning says they filed a written complaint with North Royalton police and also spoke to an agent with the state Bureau of Criminal Investigation who is looking into the matter.
The internal report further states that Zahursky and two other officers that were on scene the night of the traffic stop stated Smith-Skinner admitted to drinking earlier, had an odor of alcohol, watery red, bloodshot eyes, and his zipper was open. The internal report also states that two corrections officers working in the jail the night Smith-Skinner was arrested also noted that he had bloodshot eyes, was stumbling, and had slow movements.
Manning, however, says his client used his cell phone to videotape part of the arrest and he believes it shows his client passing the field sobriety test. The judge also ruled in his judgment entry that Smith-Skinner did not slur his speech and appeared to pass the tests.
“The court finds that the defendant was cognizant, alert, cooperative and answered all questions posed without the slightest hint of mumbled or slurred speech,” Judge Gilligan wrote in his entry.
But Cutler had a different opinion.
“With all due respect to the court, I disagree with this statement based on the video,” Cutler wrote in his report. “For example, 25 seconds into video Smith-Skinner repeats the instructions – voice pitch goes up an down and his words are strung together.”
The internal report also states that cell phone video only shows a portion of the arrest.
North Royalton police do not have dash or body cameras.
Zahursky also told Cutler he did not file a false report and had no bias towards Smith-Skinner. Zahursky said he once gave Smith-Skinner a ride home instead of arresting him for public intoxication.
North Royalton officials say Zahursky is a hardworking officer.