WARREN, Ohio (WKBN) – Police and city leaders in Warren said the recently-fired former officer who lied about a shooting is damaging the department’s relationship with the people it serves.
“Regardless of how disappointed we are, I think we can all attest that the system, in this case, actually worked,” said Warren Mayor Doug Franklin.
In a Trumbull County courtroom Wednesday morning, Linnen — once a symbol for protecting the law — stood before a judge, accused of breaking it.
“I’m more angry and disgusted that we had a Warren police officer pull over what he claimed to be a disabled vehicle and exchanged gunfire with a black male during a robbery attempt, which we now know was a complete hoax,” said Warren Police Chief Eric Merkel.
Linnen is now facing three felony charges, including tampering with evidence, inducing panic, disrupting public service and misdemeanor falsification — all stemming from the investigation into what happened the night of January 13.
Linnen claimed he was shot at, then changed his account of what happened four times, investigators said.
“If not for the efforts of police officers, we would not be here today, being able to uncover the truth of what truly happened that night,” said Eddie Colbert, public safety and service director.
Howland Police Chief Nick Roberts said in the latest version Linnen told investigators, he claimed he pulled over to find directions on his cell phone, then shot his duty weapon through his driver’s side door after a vehicle heading toward him almost hit him.
Roberts said Linnen then told investigators he grabbed his personal weapon and shot into his passenger seat in an attempt to stage the scene. Investigators said Linnen told them he was afraid of what would happen if his supervisors found out he shot his duty weapon when he wasn’t at work and out of the city.
“Every once in a while, you’re going to have an incident with a rogue officer who makes poor decisions and it just tarnishes everyone,” Roberts said.
Linnen was fired from the police department Wednesday afternoon.
In a strongly-worded termination letter, Warren Police Chief Eric Merkel wrote to Linnen, “Your criminal acts, dishonesty, lack of integrity and total disregard for the implications of your actions clearly prove that you do not subscribe to the morals, values and mission of the Warren Police Department.”
“It is not lost on us the racial aspect of this,” Colbert said. “That is one of the most disgusting parts of this.”
Rick Croff was driving to the store the night it happened. He said he was pulled over and ordered out of the car — police thought he was a suspect.
But the only thing about Croff’s appearance that matched the suspect description was that he was a black man.
He wants his story to show that Linnen hurt more people than he might have realized.
“His lie caused a lot of damage that day. A lot,” Croff said.
Now city leaders are addressing the unfairness based on skin color.
“I think we need to, as a community, be sure to examine and demand that the full impact of this incident be considered,” Pastor Todd Johnson said.
“It is important that communication goes on and it’s important that we don’t digress from this incident, but then not tolerating this incident and seeing how we can make things better,” said Tom Conley, with the Greater Warren-Youngstown Urban League.
Merkel said there were no red flags that would have identified Linnen as being a problem. He said Linnen went through a background check, a polygraph, psychological testing and numerous interviews before he was hired two years ago.
Linnen has been released from jail on bond and is due back in court February 20.