Exclusive: Relatives of Cincinnati Police District 5 officers speak out

Cincinnati Police Officer Jana Cruse (Photo provided by www.police-museum.org)
Cincinnati Police Officer Jana Cruse (Photo provided by www.police-museum.org)
Cincinnati Police Specialist Robert McGuire (Photo provided by www.police-museum.org)
Cincinnati Police Specialist Robert McGuire (Photo provided by www.police-museum.org)
Cincinnati Police Sgt. Anthony Wagers (Photo provided by www.police-museum.org)
Cincinnati Police Sgt. Anthony Wagers (Photo provided by www.police-museum.org)

CINCINNATI, OH (FOX19) - Relatives of three Cincinnati police officers who all died from cancer and worked at District 5 headquarters at one point in their careers are speaking out exclusively to FOX19 NOW.

There is no direct link or connection between the building and the cancer pattern. And last week, City Manager Harry Black announced air quality test results conducted at the police union's request gave District 5 a clean bill of health.

But FOP leader Sgt. Dan Hils is asking former and current District 5 officers who have cancer to contact him and confirms to FOX19 NOW he has met with lawyers. He says the pattern of officers getting cancer is concerning, there could be a link to the building and the issue needs more statistical analysis.

The families of Officer Jana Cruse, Specialist Robert McGuire and Sgt. Anthony Tony Wagers sat down with Anchor Rob Williams Tuesday to talk about District 5 and how much they miss their loved ones.

They say they may never know for sure what caused their relatives to get cancer.

But, they say, their loved ones were healthy, didn't smoke and didn't drink at all or infrequently.

"There has to be something that is uniting all of us together," said Paula McGuire, Specialist McGuire's widow.

"Something is causing something for so many people to lose their lives. Something."

They said they agree there are so many past and present District 5 officers being diagnosed with cancer - at least 25 according to the latest FOP figures - that they are suspicious.

They said they think the city should take a closer look at the building despite the recent air quality test results and should consider moving officers working in the building now out as soon as possible to be on the safe side.

"We have to do something as a whole, as a community," said LaKeya "Ke Ke" McNary, Officer Jana Cruse's daughter.

"The city has to care because we've already lost people. There are people currently battling with cancer now that may or may not make it. You know, everybody doesn't have a good ending to the story and for us it didn't end well. We had to lose some of the most important people to us and it's not fair."

Officer Cruse was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2011. The cancer spread to her brain, liver and stomach before she died June 10, robbing her of her dreams of using her master's degree to teach criminal justice, her daughter said.

Cancer also cut short Specialist McGuire's time with his wife and their seven children between them.

"He was amazing," Paula McGuire said. "He had four biological children and three of my children he took under his wing and he didn't have to."

He was 40 years old when he became the oldest Cincinnati police recruit. He was sworn in as an officer in 2003.

"Bob loved being a cop," his widow recalled. "When Bob didn't have a uniform on, he was an amazing man. But when he put the uniform on, there was just something that changed in him."

Specialist McGuire worked at District 5 until 2006, when he was transferred to District 3. He beat colon cancer after a 2010 diagnosis, but a 2012 lung cancer diagnosis wasn't as forgiving.

The cancer spread to his brain before he died on Jan. 15, 2015, the same day District 5 Specialist Stephanie Bradford, 50, died of Stage 4 appendix cancer.

Her husband's lung cancer was a mystery to doctors, Paula McGuire said.

"I firmly believe that Bob was healthy," she said. "For him to be diagnosed with cancer when physicians would come in the room and say 'You're healthy but you have cancer. Where do you work?'"

"I've heard that so many times playing in the back of my mind: 'Where do you work?'"

Sgt. Wagers also devoted his life to helping others. He worked for Cincinnati police 29 years after serving in the U.S. Army.

"Everything was going great, or so we thought," his son said.

Sgt. Wagers worked at District 5 about six months and then began to have stomach issues, his widow tells FOX19 NOW.

She said her husband continued to have flare-ups, but doctors told him it was a bout with irritable bowel syndrome.

Sgt. Wagers became even more ill by 2013 and then retired in June 2014.

It wasn't until June of this year that he was diagnosed with Stage 4 stomach cancer. He died weeks later, July 30.

"He likely had cancer for several years but never knew," Drew Wagers said. "Stomach cancer is fairly uncommon in the U.S., and the average age for those diagnosed is 69. My dad had just turned 53, which is considered young for stomach cancer. I don't know whether the district contributed to his cancer or not, but there seems to be a pattern."

FOX19 NOW began a series of investigative reports on Cincinnati District 5 headquarters in Clifton last month.

Our cameras are the only ones permitted inside so far to capture images of conditions the police union president described as "shameful" as he called for the city to relocate the 129 officers and 5 civilian employees who work there.

Sgt. Hils took our camera crew on an exclusive tour last month and pointed out concerns over mold, asbestos, spiders, a bed bug infestation, mice, a leaky roof and cramped quarters.

Since then, he said our reporting led other officers touched by cancer to come to him.

He said he has become troubled over a pattern he has discovered at least 25 past and present District 5 officers diagnosed with cancer, six in particular who were in their 50s when they died in 2015 and 2016. Five of those six had jobs that mostly kept them in the building.

That cancer pattern, he says, is now his priority as he works to raise awareness about the issue and backs a motion by City Councilman Charlie Winburn to close District 5 and relocate workers there into a temporarily facility by May.

Councilman Wendell Young, a former Cincinnati police officer who once worked at District 5, backs the motion. All of city council could vote on it in early January.

Both Winburn and Young toured District 5 with Sgt. Hils earlier this month. The councilmen came outside afterward and told reporters waiting for them the building was "deplorable."

"If I worked here, I would quit," Young announced.

In response to the FOP concerns, city administrators had District 5 tested on Dec. 13 for mold, radon and asbestos.

The test results came back showing no issues other than moisture that was found "here and there" in the building, Black recently said. The city is hiring an outside expert to deal with the moisture.

"The indoor air quality in the Police District 5 headquarters building is found to be typical for commercial buildings. No conditions were found that would be expected to cause health concerns. No conditions were found that exceed regulatory limits or industry standards,"  Black wrote to City Council in a Dec. 19 memo.

"We appreciate the concerns brought forward by the FOP and any of our employees related to the quality of workspaces. We encouraged individuals with concerns to bring them forward and we will continue to investigate and remedy items of concern as swiftly as possible."

Black has said city administrators will continue to address any issues brought to light as quickly as possible and would encourage any employees with illnesses concerns related to work spaces to contact its Risk Management liaison for investigation.

To date, Black noted on Dec. 19, none have.

City officials also will continue to evaluate intermediate and long-term options for the building and provide options for council to discuss, prioritize and ultimately decide as part of the 2018 recommendation for the budget, Black has said.

No determinations or recommendations have been made yet.

Options could include moving District 5 workers to the city's old permit center on Central Parkway once renovations are made, he said.

Renovations could not begin until 2019 at the soonest, he said, and other police and fire services could be located there, too.

Council is expected to adopt the 2018 budget in June.

Last year, they declined to earmark millions needed to renovate an existing building or to build a new headquarters despite the District 5 commander giving a City Hall presentation with photos that outlined concerns over mold, mildew, asbestos, rodents and overcrowded quarters.

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