Strasburg, Ohio - Public records are shedding light on the recent resignation of Strasburg Police Chief Robert Kutcher.
According to records contained in Kutcher’s personnel file, the resignation comes following an internal investigation into suspected substance abuse and other alleged questionable conduct by the former police chief.
The village’s concerns about Kutcher and his conduct stem from a July 31 phone call regarding rumors of suspected huffing by the former police chief. The call and further actions by the village were documented in a file entry written by Strasburg Mayor John Bitikofer.
According to the entry, Mayor Bitikofer met with the chief on August 1 regarding suspicions of substance abuse and an allegation that he provided computer passwords and the code to the police station to a non-employee of the village. Bitikofer wrote that Kutcher sent him a text message later that morning stating that he was not sure he fully heard or comprehended what was said during the meeting and what he was being accused of.
On August 3, Mayor Bitikofer wrote that he spoke with Tuscarawas County Sheriff Orvis Campbell to discuss the rumors and what actions he recommended be taken. The sheriff advised Bitikofer that normal drug testing would not be appropriate to detect huffing but agreed to assist with the investigation by interviewing village police officers.
During the course of the investigation, Sheriff Campbell met with two officers, and both expressed similar concerns regarding the chief and his recent behavior. His findings were summarized in a report to Mayor Bitikofer dated August 30.
The officer initially interviewed by Sheriff Campbell recounted the first time he felt concerned about the possibility that the chief may have been under the influence of something. The officer stated that he had arrived at work one morning to find Kutcher passed out in his office. The officer said that he attempted to awaken Kutcher by screaming and shaking him. He stated that when the chief finally awoke, he acted very drowsy. The officer suspected huffing due to his difficulty waking him up.
The officer also described another alleged incident involving the former chief. The officer claimed that he walked into the station and found Kutcher sitting in his chair with his arms folded and a can of air duster up near his face. He recalled hearing what he believed to be the sound duster go off and questioning the chief as to whether he had just taken a hit. According to the officer, Kutcher replied lethargically and in a very delayed manner by saying "nope" in a deep and loud voice.
The officer also shared his concern regarding a domestic incident in the village where it was heard in the background of the call that a knife was involved. The officer said he was on his way back from Dover at the time and responded directly to the scene. The officer stated that he contacted Kutcher upon his arrival to ask him if he was responding as backup, to which the chief allegedly responded that he was unaware of the call because he had not been listening to the radio.
A second officer interviewed by the sheriff echoed similar concerns regarding Kutcher.
That officer recounted an alleged incident that he said occurred early in July during which he walked into the station and witnessed Kutcher sitting in his chair with a red and tan can in his arms and the straw up his nose and engaged what the officer described as “a 1,000-mile stare.” He stated that the chief eventually came to and placed the can into his desk drawer but remained lethargic.
Both of the officers interviewed expressed concern about the alleged involvement of Kutcher's girlfriend in official police business. The first officer stated that he knew for a fact that Kutcher had given the woman a password to the department's computer network, which gave her access to police reports and personnel documents. The second said documents with the woman’s name on them had been found saved on the system.
Bitikofer wrote on August 7 that the Safety Committee had met with Kutcher following the village council meeting to discuss their concerns. He noted that after being questioned repeatedly by committee members, Kutcher admitted to giving the computer password and office combination to a non-village employee but denied having any issues pertaining to drug abuse.
The committee decided at the time that no further action would be taken until after the mayor had an opportunity to meet again with the sheriff.
Kutcher was placed on paid administrative leave during a disciplinary hearing held on the afternoon of September 11 and given the opportunity to submit his resignation during the September 18 council meeting.
Kutcher could not be reached for comment but stated in his resignation letter that he believed he made a positive impact during his 21 years as a police officer for the village.
Kutcher was first hired as a part-time patrolman in June of 1997 and became a full-time officer in July of 2004. He was promoted to sergeant in January of 2008 and chief in September of 2013.
Sgt. Dave Warrick has been tapped to oversee the police department while the village actively searches for a new chief.
Bitikofer declined to provide further comment regarding the matter with Kutcher but stated that the department has been doing a great job of maintaining business as usual in the village.
"People don't have to worry about anything as far as the town goes," he said.
STACEY CARMANY, TUSCO TV