Controversy surrounds sudden removal of young Black attorney on Akron citizen police review board

Published: Feb. 28, 2023 at 10:16 PM EST
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AKRON, Ohio (WOIO) - The city of Akron is facing backlash from the community after some members of the city council made the last-minute decision to remove a young Black attorney and activist from the city’s new civilian police review board.

Monday’s city council meeting went past midnight. There were eight members who wanted to keep 27-year-old Imokhai Okolo on the board calling him the perfect candidate, but there were four other members who wouldn’t budge and all they needed was one more vote.

“It’s really disappointing,” Okolo said. “I really thought that we as a city had moved past all this nonsense.”

Imokhai Okolo was one of six candidates selected by a committee to serve on Akron’s new citizen’s police oversight board.

“He represents a critical voice,” said Councilman Shammas Malik. “For them to recommend him and that at the last-minute sub him out without even a vote the only words I have for that are institutional racism.”

The council voted six times throughout the five-hour meeting hoping to sway the holdout members, but that didn’t work. Some council members claimed they couldn’t support Okolo because of a social media post he made shortly after Jayland Walker’s death where he referred to police as “pigs”. Okolo doesn’t think it’s fair to judge his ability to be impartial off one social media post.

“It was anger, frustration at the situation you know I had someone trying to delegitimize my feelings towards seeing someone my same age being gunned down in my city when it could have been someone like me,” Okolo explained.

Okolo doesn’t think the social media post is the real reason for his removal. During the council meeting, he played a recording of a Zoom meeting he had with Councilman Jeff Fusco a few days earlier.

“There’s people early on in some of these processes they’re asked to commit in their discussions and commitments made and one of the things I will tell you that I’m about is whenever I make a commitment to someone I stick to that commitment,” Fusco said in the recording.

“That’s interesting it begs the question who did you make commitments to and who else has made similar commitments, we have to ask ourselves who really has the power in this city?” Okolo said in the meeting.

19 News spoke with Councilman Fusco over the phone. He told us yes, he had made a commitment to the head of the Akron Police Union, Clay Cozart.

“I made a commitment that I can’t support him,” Jeff Fusco said over the phone. “Why is it exactly was because of a number of reasons, one of the reasons is the postings.”

“That’s problematic for us an elected body whose been elected by this city by the residents to do the work of the people,” said Councilwoman Tara Mosley.

Councilwoman Mosley is frustrated that the board couldn’t come together to meet this deadline and is hoping Okolo will still be able to sit on the board.

“We are in contempt right now and we don’t know what that encompasses because it is not explicitly written,” said Councilwoman Mosley. “Hopefully when we come back on Monday either we vote to bring Imokhai on or they find someone exactly like him which I do not think they’ll be able to do.”

There was an amended list that included a police officer who works outside of Akron, but 19 News before Monday night’s meeting the council president spoke with that officer. She agreed a young black man should serve on the board over her and withdrew her name.

The council will meet again on Monday.