PINAC correspondent Mike Skidmore was bonded out Tuesday.
Now the 58-year-old former Marine and retired corrections officer is preparing to fight a legal battle that will determine whether or not armed security guards have the legal right to assault citizens on behalf of their employers.
Generally, the answer to that question is no as security guards only have the power to make citizens’ arrests, which requires them to not only witness the alleged crime, but to inform the person why they are being arrested.
In this case, Timothy Norris, a former Richland County sheriff’s deputy now employed as a security guard for the Richland County Administration Building, walked up to Skidmore and wordlessly grabbed the camera around his neck, tugging at it in a clear act of aggression, which prompted Skidmore to respond by punching him.
Norris was responding to a complaint made by Richland County Commissioner Marilyn John, who had accused Skidmore of “inappropriately touching” a county clerk when he leaned in close to photograph her name tag.
But Norris never witnessed the alleged incident, which, if anything, was incidental, neither sexual or aggressive in nature as can be seen in the video below.
In contrast, Norris’ actions were obviously aggressive when he grabbed Skidmore’s camera around his neck and began tugging at it, prompting Skidmore to punch him in the face repeatedly.
Norris then pulled out a gun and fired, even though he knew Skidmore was not armed as the guard had been standing by the metal detector when Skidmore walked into the building with his camera earlier that morning.
After the bullet ended up lodged in a wall, fortunately not striking anybody, Norris then re-holstered his gun and adjusted his watch as his partner, Charles Kochis, struggled with Skidmore on the floor.
During that struggle, Skidmore allegedly bit Kochis on the cheek.
Richland County sheriff’s deputies eventually responded to the scene and seized three cameras that had been brought into the meeting by citizens.
Then the Richland County Prosecutor’s Office issued a statement accusing Skidmore of acting “disorderly” and refusing to leave when ordered to do so by the commission.
The statement also said that Norris was only trying to remove Skidmore when he became combative. The statement made no mention that Norris fired his gun during the struggle.
However, a fourth camera that had been brought in by Skidmore’s group that somehow did not get confiscated captured the scene in its entirety, proving that Skidmore was never asked to leave.
It also shows that he had been welcomed to photograph the name tag on the clerk after she had turned it around where before she had been wearing it backwards, making it impossible to view her name.
According to Richland County officials, both Norris and Kochis are certified peace officers in Ohio, even if they are not working for law enforcement agencies.
The security guards are referred to as “bailiffs” in Skidmore’s arrest reports, which generally means they are working for the local sheriff’s office or for the local court system, usually under a judge’s supervision.
But the Richland County Sheriff’s Office has made it clear that these men are no longer employed by its agency. And although the county courthouse is enclosed in the larger county administration building, the incident did not take place inside a courtroom.
In fact, the guards were hired last year after the building installed a security system in its entrance to prevent people from smuggling in prohibited items, mainly weapons.
So there are many legal technicalities to consider in this case.
Skidmore’s family raised $10,000 of the $100,000 bond to release him, money which they will never see again. And now they need to figure out how to pay the team of four lawyers that have been retained by his family.
We will be soon be posting links to help raise money for his legal defense.
The Richland County sheriff’s office did not return Skidmore’s two cameras which were recording during the incident, including his GoPro and a Samsung smartphone.
Skidmore spoke briefly to PINAC on Tuesday, saying he is not commenting publicly at the moment under advisement from his attorneys.
Although Skidmore was not technically on assignment for PINAC that day as he was reporting for a local website and we generally are not interested in mundane county commission meetings, it became an immediate PINAC issue the moment Norris grabbed his camera.
Skidmore is also part of PINAC’s cyber newsroom where we encourage correspondents to keep their local officials on their toes by making continuous public records requests while getting it on camera, which we believe is the best way to keep government transparent.
And as you can see in the video where the county commission changed the agenda without notifying citizens, announcing that they would be going into closed executive session, they seem to have a problem with remaining transparent.
The commission ended up going into closed session on Monday where they came up with two rules in response to the Skidmore incident.
The first rule states that “a disruptive person waives his or her right to attend meetings, and the board may remove or have the person removed from the meeting.” The second rule change suggests “audio and video recordings are permitted, however, they must be silent, unobtrusive, self-contained, and self-powered to limit interference with the ability of others to hear, see, and participate in the meeting.”
“I think in response to events that have happened we want to make sure we’re all clear and on the same page,” said John.
As much as Commissioner John would like us to believe Skidmore was “disruptive” or that his cameras interfering with anybody else to see, hear or participate in the meeting, the video shows us it was her and her employees who were guilty of obstructing the public’s right to participate in a public meeting.
A local news site, quoting an unnamed county official, said Skidmore’s journalistic style is “‘aggressive and forceful’ among public officials and other members of the press in the way he asks questions.”
And that is the main reason the security guard was aggressive and forceful in his approach.