Councilmen call D5 "deplorable" after tour: 'If I worked here, I would quit'

Former District 5 officer speaks about cancer
Dan Hils, Wendell Young and Charlie Winburn. (FOX19 NOW)
Dan Hils, Wendell Young and Charlie Winburn. (FOX19 NOW)
Paul Meyer holds a photo of his co-worker who died of cancer. (FOX19 NOW)
Paul Meyer holds a photo of his co-worker who died of cancer. (FOX19 NOW)

CINCINNATI (FOX19) - A FOX19 NOW investigation into conditions at Cincinnati Police District 5 headquarters is getting the city's attention and could lead to City Council earmark money next year to build a new police station.

After touring District 5 in Clifton with the police union president Wednesday morning, Councilmen Charlie Winburn and Wendell Young met with reporters and called conditions inside "deplorable."

"This is a disgrace from amazing grace," Winburn said.

The men said they found evidence of dirt, mold, bed bugs, spiders, rodents, water leaks, mildew, officers cramped into spaces clearly too small, "ice-cold" rooms and police records laying all over , essentially compromised.

Officers who work there should be moved as soon as possible, and a new police station must be built, they said.

"If I worked here, I would quit," said Young, a former Cincinnati police officer.

"Now we do know what the city administration was hiding and why they didn't want you all here today," Winburn told reporters gathered outside who were barred from the tour by a city spokesman, citing police policy.

"We found in the building, there were 18 people sharing one room in a space of 400 square feet. We found bedbugs and spiders. The roll call room is like a 6-square-foot room. Thirty people meet in that room. There is mold in the vents."

Cincinnati Police Chief Eliot Isaac met the councilmen and FOP President Sgt. Dan Hils inside the district for the tour, but he did not come out to talk to the media.

Last month, Hils exclusively invited and took FOX19 NOW inside the Ludlow Avenue building to expose what he said were "shameful" conditions inside.

He showed our cameras what he said appeared to be black mold caked on basement vents, a boiler with an asbestos warning sticker on it, boxes of police files strewn on the boiler room floor with water damage, rodent traps and investigative offices so cramped detective must sit at "mini-desks" and use a co-ed locker room.

At that time, Hils called for the 129 sworn officers and 4 civilian employees to be moved out "yesterday" due to what he felt were concerns about the air quality in the 57-year-old building.

The FOX19 NOW investigation comes more than a year after District 5's commander, Captain Bridget Bardua, went before a council committee to alert them to mold and mildew in basement vents, asbestos, mice and a leaky roof.

City Council, however, declined to make room in the 2017 budget for a new station, a cost that is estimated to be about $20 million.

Now, Young and Winburn say they will push for a new police station in the 2018 budget, which will be decided in June. WInburn says money must be found, even if the city has to put off other projects. The budget has a projected $7.1 million shortfall, City Manager Harry Black announced Wednesday.

They said they don't want officers at District 5 to have to work there one more day longer than necessary.

Young and Winburn commended and thanked Hils, the leader of the police department's rank and file, for speaking out and bringing the matter to the city's attention.

"The public will not stand for these conditions," Young said. "I admire Dan Hils. I don't always agree with him, but when you're right, you're right. I am going to stick up for you.

"I think we can find the money to do this as soon as possible. I would refuse to work in this building. There's bed bugs, there's spiders, God knows what else is in there. There is some human decency that needs to occur here, and it' s just not here."

Hils thanked the elected officials for taking the time to go through the police station and see conditions for themselves.

He said his only concern has been for the men and women who work at District and protect and serve the community. He said it's his job - and Council's - to protect them now.

"Officers who serve the community need a safe, decent place to work," Hils said.

City officials are having air quality tests taken at District 5. It's not clear when those tests will occur.

Last week, Hils asked the city manager in a letter to run mold and radon tests.

Black wrote back in a letter two days later he would and thanked Hils for bringing the matter to the city's attention.

But, he noted, no complaints have been filed from over District 5 's indoor air quality in the last five years. That includes no complaints about asbestos, mold, radon or insects.

The city is working to upkeep the building with regular maintenance and an environmental audit is underway that will be completed soon, he wrote.

A complaint about mold and roach and infestation at District 5, however, was filed Nov. 24 was filed with Cincinnati's heath department by an Anderson Township who works Downtown and saw FOX19 NOW reports about the police station, David Champness, city records show.

He said he felt was important for a health inspection to occur at the building, which he calls a city-owned asset that essentially belongs to taxpayers like himself.

He said he heard back from a health inspector Tuesday who told him there was no signs of rodent infestation or mold on the vent covers or in the filters, but those have been changed in the last couple of weeks.

"It's a public safety concern," he said. "The police are part of the public, for God's sake. I just find complete contempt for the city council that has handled this."

Related story: ["City to test District 5 air quality after FOP raises concerns"]

About an hour after Winburn and Young went through District 5, Black's spokesman, Rocky Merz, released a memo Black sent to City Council updating them on District 5's tests and a report on the district from the city's director of environment and sustainability, Larry Falkin.

Falkin wrote that the tests are scheduled to be performed, but it unlikely mold and radon will be found.

"No asbestos concerns were observed," his memo states. "The asbestos containing building materials at the facility remain in good condition. Radon testing is scheduled to be performed, but it is unlikely that a problem will be found. No one is officed (sic)on the lowest level of the building. Air circulation by the HVAC system and transient activity on the lowest level of the building make it highly unlikely that the air on the lowest level will be stagnant for long enough for radon (if present) to concentrate.

"Mold testing is scheduled to be performed, but it is unlikely that a problem will be found," he wrote. "Mold spores are always present in the air, both indoors and outdoors, at levels that typically cause no concerns. In a healthy building, the concentration of mold spores in indoor air are typically lower than the concentrations in the surrounding outdoor air.

"Elevated levels of mold spores or particular types of mold spores can cause respiratory issues for sensitive individuals. OES inspected the air vents at District 5 that have been shown in media photographs as well as other areas of the facility. The dark staining on the vents was found to be lint from police uniforms. The air intakes from the HVAC system were found to be located adjacent to uniform storage areas and in areas used as dressing rooms, which is likely the source of the lint. OES observed nothing that indicates the presence of a significant mold issue.

"The only way to know for sure whether a radon or mold issue is present is through sampling and laboratory analysis," he wrote. "Although nothing observed at the facility suggests the presence of these problems, OES supports the performance of testing to definitively answer the questions."

Meanwhile, officers at District 5 now keep a list on the wall of all their former and current co-workers - 13 so far that they know of - who have been diagnosed with cancer, a photo taken inside and given to FOX19 NOW reveals.

A photo showing the list, tacked up on a bulletin board next to two asbestos warning signs, was released by Winburn's chief of staff after Wednesday's tour.

There is no known link or connection to the building and anyone's cancer. But, the pattern is enough to concern Winburn, Young, Hils and Mayor John Cranley.

"There are a lot of things there that certainly could be (cancer) factors," Young said. "I think you have to pay attention to that allegation in light of what is going on."

There are so many D5 workers who have been diagnosed now with cancer, it is a compelling enough of a trend that should be looked into further, said one retired District 5 detective who was diagnosed with prostate cancer while working there in 2004.

"There's not proof, but there's a lot of circumstantial evidence," said Paul Meyer, 67, in an interview at his Blue Ash home last month.

Meyer said one of his former co-workers who died from cancer in July, Officer Richard Kessler, 70, expressed concerns to Meyer and indicated that he suspected a direct link.

Meyer retired in 2010. Before he did, he said at one point his desk in the district's investigations room was alongside his partner, Specialist Stephanie Bradford, 50, who died from appendix cancer in January 2015, and she sat next to a detective he said also was diagnosed with another form of cancer and now works in a different district.

Meyer refers to those two co-workers and himself as "The Three Musketeers." He was extremely close to Bradford in particular.

He keeps a framed picture of her in his house, stays in touch with her father and fondly describes her as the perfect partner for him. She had street smarts and an impeccable, determined work ethic.

"The one who was really concerned about it and kept saying there were issues was Kessler who died a few months back," Meyer tells FOX19 NOW.

He would say 'There's something in the air, look at all of us,'" Meyer recalled.

"Of course, we can't prove it, but when The Three Musketeers are facing the wall there, we all got it in certain parts of our body."

Meyer said he is appreciative to the city for employing him more than 38 years, allowing him to enjoy a career he loved, provide for his family and put his children through school.

But, he said, city leaders should have opened a new district years ago.

"I am very thankful to the city, but there are some things that they could do a better job at and this is one of them," he said. "When you have a decent place to work, I think you are more productive. I don't expect a luxurious place, but just some place that has the amenities to get the job done.

"The city could do a better job. I realize they just built a new police station in District 3, and money is tight. It's tight at your house and it's tight at my house," he said. "But there are just things you gotta do whether there's money in the budget or not."

Another retired D5 officer who was diagnosed with cancer agrees the building needs to be replaced or renovated as soon as possible.

But, retired Specialist George Pille said he doesn't see a link between his rectal/colon cancer and the building.

Neither does retired Lt. Steve Kramer, who worked at District 5 as did his father, Specialist Robert Kramer, who retired in 1982, the same year he died.

Lt. Steve Kramer was diagnosed in 2000 and attributes both his and his father's cancers to genetics.

"Mine could not possibly have come from District 5," he said. "The men in my family right up to my great grandfather had it, and so did my brother."

Youth Services Officer Alisha Stevenson, 34, was diagnosed with Stage 3 colon cancer in July 2016.

She worked in D5 for a little over a year as a patrol officer and says she always wondered if conditions in the building caused or contributed to her cancer.

Her tumor was sitting on her sphincter muscle, but doctors told her it has disappeared.

She has been undergoing chemotherapy since late summer.

"I think the city knew about the problem and should have done something sooner. (District 5 commander) Capt. (Bridget) Bardua complained about the problems and they didn't really do anything, not that I know of."

Stevenson said the building should be shut down at once.

"The place is too crowded anyway. We have nowhere to park. You have to park across the street and nearly get hit running across to get to work. Some people don't stop. If there is a chance there is something in the building making us sick, we should not take that chance. They need to determine if it is dangerous and respond."

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