Geauga Commissioner Ralph Spidalieri concluded the county board meeting Tuesday morning to address his statements from the previous week regarding the defacing and destruction of monuments being a “shootable offense,” stating his words were “taken out of context” and part of talks outside the meeting.

“The statement that I had was part of a much larger conversation based on less lethal shootable situations,” Mr. Spidalieri said of the June 16 statement, explaining that “it was something that I had directed, actually, with the sheriff, because he was part of that conversation.”

He said he was “disgusted” with local media, describing the spread of his statement as “irresponsible.”

In a county audio-recorded discussion with Geauga County Sheriff Scott Hildenbrand during last week’s meeting, Commissioner Timothy Lennon and Mr. Spidalieri expressed their support of the sheriff’s department and their opposition to defunding law enforcement. Commissioner James Dvorak was not present at the June 16 meeting.

After their expressed support, Sheriff Hildenbrand informed them that the department is looking to possibly purchase riot gear like helmets and shields, pointing out that in assisting neighboring counties, officers have had to borrow gear from those counties.

Mr. Spidalieri urged the sheriff to get numbers to him soon to avoid having to backorder items, as riot gear may be reaching high demand with protests spreading nationwide as a result of the death of George Floyd, 46, of Minneapolis, Minnesota, on May 25 while in police custody.

He also said the county would help the department in getting access to chemical munitions and masks, should the need for them arise, and that the county should have a zero tolerance policy for vandalism during protests, stating that things like the defacing of veterans’ monuments should be a “shootable offense.”

While he did not outright specify lethal or non lethal weapons in his June 16 statement within the meeting, Mr. Spidalieri said in an interview following the June 23 meeting that the statement was part of a larger conversation that “was not within the confines of the commissioners’ meeting” that had specifically involved the use of non lethal weapons.

“It was a conversation that I had had with someone else that we had discussed – about chemical munitions, bean-bag rounds, pepper balls, all those different things – of what constitutes a shootable offense for that,” he said.

“This is not about race. This isn’t about anything other than some civil unrest that has happened and criminal behavior,” he said of the protests and death of Mr. Floyd, later stating that he doesn’t believe there is a single police officer who supports the level of force used against Mr. Floyd.

“The wall that was destroyed that we were talking about [last week] that had been vandalized, gravestones of military that died for the safety and welfare and our freedom that we are here for today, they and their families deserve better,” he said. “I don’t want to see anybody get hurt. I don’t want us to continue to see this civil unrest. I don’t want to see people’s businesses burned to the ground. I don’t want to see people discriminated against.”

After opening the meeting up for questions, several Geauga County residents spoke up requesting more information on his statements, including his labeling of high school student protestors as “punks” from the June 2 Black Lives Matter rally at Riverside Park in Chagrin Falls.

“Do you know who these kids were?” Kenston High School teacher Anissa Smith asked Mr. Spidalieri.

Mr. Spidalieri said he knew exactly who the kids were.

“They are a group of individuals that are known throughout the county that have done nothing but cause trouble,” he said.

“It’s interesting that you say that because they were some of my students, my former students, class presidents at Kenston,” Mrs. Smith said. “That really upsets me that you would call them punks when I know them personally, and they are good kids.”

After some heated back and forth, Mr. Spidalieri later clarified that there are two specific individuals he was referring to, whom he did not name, “that are major instigating punks.

“None of us are against any kind of peaceful protest,” he said. “But when you put some punks like that into it to try to start the problems, that’s exactly what they’re going to say. And I’m not going to rescind what I said; those two are punks.”

Sam Cottrill started reporting for the Times in February 2019 and covers Auburn, Bainbridge, Bentleyville and Chagrin, Kenston, Solon and West Geauga schools. She graduated from Kent State University in 2018 with a bachelor's degree in journalism.

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