Oakley Police Department controversy an ongoing problem - WNEM TV 5

Oakley Police Department controversy an ongoing problem

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OAKLEY, MI (WNEM) -

The drama continues around one Mid-Michigan police department. Here's a look back at the village of Oakley's slew of problems and lawsuits.

Village receives 100 reserve police officers

How would you feel if you knew that there were dozens of armed officers with badges in hand on patrol throughout Michigan?

These officers didn't necessarily graduate from the police academy. They got their badges simply by donating.

It's a scenario that played out in the Saginaw County community of Oakley with an impact reaching far beyond the small village's borders. It's one of six villages in Saginaw County, barely more than one square mile in size. Not even 300 people live there.

The village of Oakley had a reserve police force of at least 100 officers. That's at least one reserve officer for every three people.

It was one of the town's best kept secrets and so are the names of the reservists, who were given an officer identification.

They were also given an authorization on their concealed pistol license to carry a gun in gun free zones like schools and churches. If they wanted to pay an undisclosed amount of money, they received an official police badge.

TV5 attempted to get the names of Oakley's reservists through the Freedom of Information Act, but were denied stating it was an invasion of an individual's privacy.

Chief Reznick told TV5 they survive solely on donations from reservists and he said it's no different than someone donating to their university.

A judge has backed Chief Reznick's stance that he doesn't have to disclose his little black book of active reservists.

Chief Reznick said he is complying with all laws and regulations required for reserve officer programs.

Back in August, the Oakley Police Department were being investigated by the Michigan Commission on Law Enforcement Standards and the Michigan Attorney General's Office.

They checked for violations of state statutes regarding police department operations.

Village shuts down police department

Officials decided to shut down their police department until it got its liability insurance.

The Oakley Board of Trustees voted 5-1 on Sept. 9 to disband the force of about a dozen certified officers. The village has a population of 300 but about 100 reserve officers.

The Michigan Municipal League told Oakley it would lose its insurance coverage earlier this year. The insurance carrier cited lawsuits filed against the village and concerns about the police department as reasons for ending coverage July 1.

Controversy swirled around the police chief Rob Reznick. Some people questioned the way the chief has raised donations that were being used in the village's general fund.

Now, according to the village council, that money was donated by people who signed up to become what they call "reserve officers" for the police department.

Some of Reznick's critics, including members of the village council, expressed concern he was gaining too much power in the village because of the extra money his department provides.

The village secured municipal insurance on July 1, but it doesn't cover the police department.

Board of Trustees President Pro Tem Sue Dingo told another trustee during the meeting that she didn't know how much liability insurance would cost.

Police department continues to operate

Days after disbanding the police force, squad cars were back on the streets.

"If something happens, I at least know I tried," said Oakley Village Trustee Francis Koski.

Village trustees decided to shut down the police service until they got liability insurance. That's why Koski was shocked to hear the police department was up and running again days later.

"There was a policy paid and obtained today. The department is operating 100 percent covered with that policy," said Oakley officer Don Simpson.

Simpson is a part-time officer. He said Oakley Police Chief Rob Reznick was able to purchase insurance and put his department back in service. Koski doesn't think the chief had the right to do this.

"Mr. Reznick, in my eyes, has turned around and, as far as his employment, it's insubordination," Koski said.

Koski questions where the money for the policy came from. He said the $25,000 policy was paid for by reserve officer donations. Officer Simpson wouldn't go so far to confirm that.

"For the village of Oakley, there's a wonderful group of people who, for their own reasons, choose to support the village of Oakley," Simpson said.

The police department was accused of operating illegally.

The lawsuit comes after leaders in the village of Oakley voted to temporarily disband its police force, but in the wake of that vote officers continued to patrol the streets and enforce laws.

"This is the most dysfunctional town I have ever seen," attorney Phil Ellison said.

The small town of Oakley had nearly as many police officers as it did residents. Now it's supposed to have none.

"I am filing a lawsuit because the police department is operating illegally," Ellison said.

He filed the lawsuit in the Saginaw County district court because he said Oakley police officers are breaking the law.

"They do not have the authority to be policing that village," he said.

Village trustees voted to oust the police force after learning they were unable to obtain liability insurance.

According to Ellison, that is why the Oakley Police Department was no longer active.

The small town drama began months ago when it was discovered the police chief was handing out reserve police badges in exchange for donations to the village.

After being sued for not releasing the names of the reserve officers the village lost its insurance.

Chief Robert Resnick said he got his own insurance policy. But Ellison said trustees have no idea where Resnick got the money to pay for it. Also, the village did not vote to reinstate the police and that should make the move illegal in the eyes of the law.

Judge deactivates police department

A Saginaw County judge deactivated the entire village's police department because of the two lawsuits.

It's another development in a saga of alleged corruption and abuse of power by village officials.

The Oakley Police Department has been mired in controversy for months, stemming from accusations over the department's reserve police force.

In the past few months the department was shut down twice and was involved in a half dozen lawsuits involving the village. On Oct. 9 an attorney called for the arrest of the village police chief.

A judge shut down the police department that same day.

Back in July trustees voted to oust the police department after losing its insurance policy, but the board of trustee's President Pro Tem Sue Dingo reactivated the department on her own. That led to Francis Koski, another trustee, to file a lawsuit claiming Dingo was abusing her power.

Most of the lawsuits against the village have stemmed from the unusually larger reserve police force Chief Robert Resnick created.

According to testimony in October, Resnick reached out to reserve officers for donations to buy insurance. He secured a new policy and Dingo reactivated the force.

Resnick was subpoenaed to show up to court on Oct. 9, but he did not show up. That prompted attorney Phil Ellison to ask the judge to issue a bench warrant.

The judge decided not to issue a bench warrant and said Dingo should not have made the decision to reinstate the police without the other board members' approval.

Resnick said he disagrees with the judge's decision and said he will comply with the order.

Village trustee files complaint against stolen equipment

Now Koski has filed a complaint regarding unreturned police equipment.

Koski has requested assistance from various local, state and federal law enforcement agencies for unreturned police equipment that belongs to the Village of Oakley.

Koski has also sought a criminal investigation and charges against all of the inactive Oakley police officers and reserve officers, Attorney Philip Ellison said.

Koski said the officers failed to return all weapons, police-grade bulletproof jackets, police badges and other equipment belonging to the Village of Oakley.

In October the Saginaw County Circuit Court deactivated the Oakley Police Department and ordered all police officers and reserve officers to return their police equipment by Oct. 22. So far none of the officers have returned their equipment, Ellison said.

Koski's complaint directs that the items are stolen since they were not returned by the deadline. Criminal charges may be filed.

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