New Beachwood police chief recorded telling officers he ‘thumped,’ ‘beat prisoners’ at beginning of career; chief says statements were taken out of context in conversation about police reform

Updated: Oct. 19, 2020 at 9:09 PM EDT
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BEACHWOOD, Ohio (WOIO) - The Beachwood Police Chief was caught on tape telling officers he beat prisoners in the past.

19 Investigates received the audio recording from an anonymous email.

Chief Kelly Stillman is heard saying, “When I first started, we beat prisoners all the time. That was just the way police work was done. Ok? That’s just the way it was. I thumped a number of prisoners in Cleveland. It doesn’t happen anymore, but that’s how police work happened.”

The Chief is now saying that statements he made in the recording are being taken out of context.

Stillman is just days into his new job.

The audio we received is only 16 seconds long.

The Chief said the whole conversation about the beginning of his career nearly 40 years ago was at least 15 minutes long.

We asked the police chief to sit down with us, give us context, and explain the point he was trying to get across.

He declined saying he has “moved on and has nothing more to say about it.”

A spokesperson with the city then referred us back to a conversation Chief Stillman recently had with the city council on the matter.

“This was a personal attack on my credibility, my professionalism, and my integrity and I will not stand for it,” he said. “What you heard in a seven or eight-second snippet was taken totally out of context.”

He said the discussion was about the evolution of police work and the wide-ranging reform we’ve seen.

“When I started in Cleveland, we did things just a bit different,” Chief Stillman said. “You heard me refer to thumping. That was a vernacular used in 1981, ’82, and ’83 when you had to go hands-on with someone to place them under arrest. If you think that by thumping I meant that I had somebody in handcuffs and beat them to a pulp while they were in custody is the total fabrication of the truth.”

After hearing him speak, the council defended the chief it just hired at the end of last month.

Mayor Martin Horwitz said, "It’s crap. I apologize to you, that this happened.

Many members, including the Mayor, expressed outrage not necessarily about comments themselves, but the recording that got released.

“The idea that one of our own would go out of his or her way, in the first two weeks that this man is here, to destroy and question his character and reputation really makes me sad," Horwitz said. “I think it is a terrible embarrassment.”

It’s unclear who took the recording in this case.

But, under Ohio law, someone can record a conversation without the other person’s permission.

“It’s not illegal to do that,” Mayor Horwitz said.

And, a spokesperson told 19 Investigates in an email that no department policies were broken in the case.

However, there’s now a discussion about creating a new policy that would ban employees from unknowingly recording conversations within the Beachwood Police department.

“I will not tolerate any type of this action going forward,” Chief Stillman said.

It’s unclear whether the city could legally put a rule like that in place, we’re still working on that part of this story.

If it can though, it could make it tougher for whistleblowers in the future.

“If we had we had this policy earlier... for this person, I would have recommended termination,” Stillman said.

We asked the city if the chief is facing any sort of internal investigation himself, and we’re told he is not.

One councilmember brought up a potential trust issue going forward, especially in diverse parts of the community. The Chief said he’s willing to have a series of public forums to talk about his views on “use of force," so that people can better understand his message.

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