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Akron nominates lawyers, nonprofit directors and a few others to new police oversight board

Akron Shooting Protests 1.jpg
Ideastream Public Media
Protesters march following the death of Jayland Walker in the summer of 2022. Walker's death prompted calls for a civilian oversight board to monitor complaints against Akron Police.

Several lawyers and nonprofit directors make up the majority of the nominees for Akron's new civilian police oversight board.

According to legislation being introduced to city council Monday, council’s picks include Donzella Malone-Anuzskiewicz, Imokhai Okolo, Diane Lewis, Caitlin Castle, Robert Gippin and Kemp Boyd.

Mayor Dan Horrigan is asking to appoint Beverly Richards, Tristan Reed and Shawn Peoples.

Staff from Horrigan’s office and a group of city councilmembers formally announced the appointments in council’s public safety committee meeting Monday afternoon.

According to information shared in the meeting, as well as an online search of nominees’ names, the individuals come from diverse backgrounds but primarily legal and nonprofit experience.

Of the mayor’s three picks, Beverly Richards is an attorney, social worker and CEO of Easterseals, a nonprofit focused on individuals with disabilities; Tristan Reed is a local mental health professional, and Shawn Peoples is a former police officer in Canton who now works as a bus driver for Akron METRO.

Donzella Malone-Anuzskiewicz is listed online as a retired mitigation specialist for the U.S. Northern District Court; Imokhai Okolo is a lawyer at Jones Day; Diane Lewis is a community organizer; Caitlin Castle is a school counselor at Firestone Community Learning Center; Robert Gippin is a lawyer and former judge at the Summit County Common Pleas Court, and Kemp Boyd is the director of Love Akron, a Christian-based community center.

Per the city charter, city council is allotted six nominations while the mayor appoints three with council's consent.

If approved, the members of the oversight board will review complaints brought against Akron Police and issue recommendations on the department’s policies.

The legislation announcing the appointments must have three readings, and council will take a vote Feb. 27.

The fatal police shooting of Jayland Walker, a 25-year-old Black man, rocked the Akron community in the summer of 2022. Protesters took to the streets and called for police reform - including a civilian oversight board.

Community organizers eventually collected thousands of signatures on a petition to put the review board on the November election ballot. Akron voters overwhelmingly approved the board by a 2 to 1 margin.

The city received 112 applications for the board. Applicants worked in a wide range of fields, from mental health services, to clergy members, to law enforcement, and came from all 10 wards, city officials said.

“We had a very difficult job because we did have some very great candidates,” said Council President Margo Sommerville. “I am really proud of the names that we are bringing forth for consideration.”

Of the nine selected, two people, Peoples and Castle, were nominated from Ward 7, the city’s southernmost portion, while no one from Wards 6 and 10 on the east side was picked. Six people applied from Ward 6, and nine from Ward 10 applied

That was a concern for several councilmembers, including At-Large Councilman Jeff Fusco.

One of the reasons Fusco opposed this version of the review board before voters approved it last year is because it has nine members, which automatically excludes one of the 10 wards, he added.

 “The fact that now we have two areas that [don’t] have representation is troubling to me,” Fusco said.

Fusco instead supported an 11-member board proposed by Horrigan, but that legislation was superseded by the charter amendment last year.

Council's search committee for the board was intent on selecting nominees who represent various age groups, races, religions and other backgrounds, said At-Large Councilwoman Linda Omobien, who was on the committee.

“There are so many people who, when you look at what they cover, they cover many of these areas, and … it was a challenge to narrow down,” Omobien said.

For example, candidates may work or go to church in a different ward than the one they live in, so they are familiar with various neighborhoods, she added.

The lack of candidates from the east side was also troubling to Ward 10 Councilwoman Sharon Connor, who said she encouraged many of her constituents to apply.

“Sometimes it takes a long time to build those relationships, and to now go back to the ward and say, ‘I’m so grateful all of you applied, but guess what, you can’t make 10 people out of nine spots,’ that’s a little disheartening,” she said.

Councilman Brad MicKitrick, who represents Ward 6 and served on the search committee, went as far to say he will not vote in favor of council’s proposed nominees.

“Continually, that’s what we’ve heard time and time and time again, that the east side does not have representation,” McKitrick said.

Reed, Anuzskiewicz and Gippin are being considered for two-year terms on the board, while the remaining six would serve four-year terms.

More details about the appointees are forthcoming.

This is a developing story and will be updated.

Updated: February 6, 2023 at 3:38 PM EST
This story has been updated with more details on the nominees and comments from council members.
Anna Huntsman covers Akron, Canton and surrounding communities for Ideastream Public Media.