Tallmadge parks and recreation manager David Cooper pleads not guilty to trespassing charges

David Cooper pleads not guilty, awaits june 3 jury trial

by Holly Schoenstein | reporter Published:

Tallmadge -- City management told Parks and Recreation Department Manager David Cooper, who is on paid leave awaiting trial on trespassing charges, several times over the past year and a half not to enter the space Summa Rehabilitation Services leases at the Recreation Center.

But, according to records in Cooper's personnel file, he didn't listen -- even after an employee at the Summa facility threatened to file a restraining order against him and his supervisor suggested that he stay away from that employee even on his personal time.

An internal personnel investigation and a separate police investigation are under way, according to Mayor Dave Kline. Kline has declined further comment on the matter.

Since March 28, Cooper has been on paid leave from work and is awaiting a jury trial June 3 in front of Judge Kim Hoover in Stow Municipal Court. He faces seven counts of fourth-degree misdemeanor trespassing, to which he has pleaded not guilty.

Cooper was unable to be reached before press time.

Speaking on Cooper's behalf, attorney, Kevin Breen of Fairlawn, said his client claims the charges, for which Summa Rehabilitation Services is the complainant, are "baseless" and are a result of a "misunderstanding."

Breen maintained Cooper is innocent of any criminal wrongdoing and that the 55-year-old Tallmadge resident only entered the space Summa leases, a secure physical therapy and sports health care facility, to use the private restroom.

Police Lt. Ron Williams said the video surveillance system at the combined entrance and exit for Summa's facility shows Cooper coming into and out of the space seven times between March 4 and around March 24.

The visits all happened after the facility had closed around 4 or 5 p.m. and once or twice on Sunday mornings, Williams said. The visits range from 2 to 11 minutes in duration.

Cooper served as the liaison between the Summa facility and the Recreation Center, until he was stripped of that duty Oct. 11, 2012, Williams said. The lease contract requires the city to give 24 hours notice before an employee enters Summa's space. In the event of an emergency, such as a water leak, Williams said a city employee, other than Cooper, is authorized to use a key on the premises to enter Summa's portion of the building.

"Summa's concerns are with the security of their medical records and HIPAA [Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996] considerations and so forth," Williams said.

Summa spokesman Jim Gosky said that no medical records have been compromised.

Breen says Cooper admits he was told not to enter Summa's space, but the city never took his key away until recently.

"He at all times had a key and was provided a key by Tallmadge for the premises at Summa," Breen said.

After Cooper was found to be entering Summa's space again, city officials said he was placed on paid leave.

Williams said it's unknown what Cooper was doing in that area during the visits because the surveillance system only monitors the door and not the rest of the medical facility.

"We are investigating that, and we're trying to determine what he was doing in there," he said. "I can say nothing's been reported stolen, and I can say it doesn't appear [Summa's] computer system has been accessed."

It doesn't appear Cooper is carrying anything out of the room in his hands while exiting the space during those visits and that he was alone, he added.

Cooper joined the city in 2008 as manager of the Recreation Center. He was later made Parks and Recreation and makes an annual salary of $63,564, according to Finance Director Steve Shanafelt.

Before working for Tallmadge, Cooper worked for several area YMCA facilities, including the Cuyahoga Falls branch and the Firestone Park branch. He also was the assistant director of recreation for the city of Wadsworth's Recreation Department for 19 years.

police reports, Personnel file

A police report documents an incident from 4:45 p.m. Oct. 10, 2012, at the Recreation Center during which an unidentified and uncharged suspect's verbal altercation with Cooper turned physical and the suspect struck Cooper. Cooper did not press charges, according to the police report that was filed five days after the incident.

The day after the fight, Cooper's direct supervisor, Public Service Director Bryan Esler, notified Cooper in writing that he was stripped of his liaison role "in an attempt to protect yourself, our employees and our patrons from an reoccurrence or escalation of violence from your attacker."

In an April 3, 2013, letter to Cooper, Esler said an employee filed a complaint regarding Cooper's contact with her.

"She has stated that she has told you on several occasions to refrain from any contact with her and yet you still continue," Esler wrote.

On April 4, 2013, Esler wrote that a Summa worker reported that Cooper has entered Summa's space at least three days a week during working hours "to either carry a message, bring mail to them, or show a patient to their office."

The same day, Esler said Cooper had entered Summa's space to advise of fire alarm testing that could have been announced by another employee. Esler said the continued contact with the Summa employees Cooper was suspended for three days without pay.

A "Last Chance Agreement" signed by Esler and Cooper on April 5, 2013, states that if Cooper continues to violate his superiors' directives, he will be fired. The Last Chance Agreement is effective for two years from the date it was signed.

Cooper's "job never changed," Breen reiterated. "He was never denied access to the [Summa] facility. Tallmadge never asked for his key back."

"We expect that in due course all of the charges that have been made will be dismissed," he said. "We don't believe that any of the charges have merit … David is and has been a longtime upstanding member of the community there and a top-rate manager in the Recreation Department."

Records in Cooper's personnel file also document several complaints by his subordinates at the Recreation Center, mostly about inappropriate clothing.

In his most recent performance review dated March 7, 2014, Esler notes Cooper needs to improve the employee morale in his department. Esler notes Cooper "responds to citizens appropriately but I have had several complaints about overly aggressive communication with employees."

Cooper also received a "needs improvement" score for not telling Esler when he's planning to be absent from work for flex time or vacation.

Cooper was given a written warning on Oct. 11, 2013, for making hundreds of photocopies on a copy machine at the Recreation Center for a task that was outside of his job duties.

Contact this reporter at 330-541-9428 or hschoenstein@recordpub.com

Facebook: Holly Schoenstein, Record Publishing Co.

Twitter: @SchoensteinH

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