April 24, 2013 - A part-time Oxford Village police officer who recently made controversial remarks to a citizen requesting his help will have quite a while to think about what he did and his future with the department.
Police Chief Mike Neymanowski said Officer Todd Barraco is taking a voluntary three-month leave of absence following an April 19 meeting between the two.
He noted it was Barraco's request.
"I granted it," the chief said. "This gives him enough time to really contemplate what he did. I think he wants to make amends with this community."
Neymanowski did place "some stipulations" on Barraco's leave.
"During the 90 days he's off, I want him to take at least a couple classes in community relations and police ethics. He was more than receptive to that," he said.
Neymanowski noted these classes will occur "on his own time" and be paid out of his own pocket.
"This isn't coming out of any taxpayer money," he said.
When the three-month leave is over, Neymanowski said, "We will talk again about whether I will accept him back here as a patrol officer."
"I think, in his own mind, he wants time to think about whether he wants to come back or not," the chief added. "He may resign. He may want to come back."
Barraco was at the center of a controversy last week after he told Dryden Township resident Nathaniel Bennett on April 7 that he would have to pay $500 cash if he wanted the officer to help him retrieve his personal belongings from an ex-girlfriend's house in the village.
Bennett took his story to a local television news station and they pitched it on an April 9 broadcast as a potential case of extortion.
Barraco said he never intended to actually take any money from Bennett. Describing his comments as "stupid" and "sarcastic," the officer explained that his words were motivated by his frustration with Bennett and the emotional stress he was dealing with from an unrelated case.
He admitted his treatment of Bennett was a "mistake" and apologized to him in person.
"He's very remorseful," Neymanowski said. "In his heart, he knows he screwed up and he's very apologetic."
Following the incident, the chief suspended Barraco without pay while he investigated the situation.
Neymanowski noted that during his suspension, Barraco missed the opportunity to work five shifts, "which adds up to $551" in wages.
He called this "ironic," considering the $500 remark the officer made to Bennett.
During his three-month leave, Barraco, who works full-time as the dean of students for Venture High School in Imlay City, will not be collecting a paycheck from the village.
Part-time officers only get paid for the hours they work. They receive no benefits, no vacation time and are not part of the police union. They are at-will employees.
Neymanowski noted that despite this controversy, Barraco has done some positive things for the department.
He was complimentary of the way Barraco handled a March 10 open-carry firearm situation involving two individuals attempting to exercise their Second Amendment rights by carrying what appeared to be assault rifles (unloaded) in front of the Oxford 7 Theater.
"Those people just want to antagonize us and try to sue us," Neymanowski said. "But he was ticking them off because he was so smooth about (handling it). He did a great job on that."
The chief added that Barraco has "helped a lot of young people here get off drugs and get on the right track."
But by the same token, "a lot of young people are not happy with him because he comes off a little stern," Neymanowski said.
In last week's story about the Barraco-Bennett incident, Neymanowski told this paper, the officer had a previous issue concerning his "demeanor with citizens."
Barraco previously received some "verbal counseling" from the chief following an incident in which, as Neymanowski put it, "he was a little more aggressive than he should have been" towards the parents of some young people he'd dealt with.
CJ Carnacchio is editor for The Oxford Leader. He lives in the Village of Oxford with his wife Connie and daughter Larissa. When he's not busy working on the newspaper, he enjoys cigars/pipes, Martinis/Scotch, hunting and fishing.