SALEM - A nearly 20-year veteran of the Salem Police Department resigned Friday, just a few days after being suspended without pay pending the outcome of a case against him for charges of drunken driving and marked lanes.
Gary Poage submitted his letter of resignation to Salem Police Chief J.T. Panezott, with copies made for Mayor John Berlin, Service/Safety Director Ken Kenst, Auditor Betty Brothers and the Salem Civil Service Commission.
"He has that right," Panezott said, opting against further comment.
Poage, 47, was charged with OVI and marked lanes by Canfield police after a traffic stop early Sunday morning on South Broad Street. He was found to be more than three times over the legal limit for alcohol during a portable breath test. At the police station, he agreed to a chemical test which also resulted in a reading over the legal limit.
Poage entered a plea of not guilty during a court arraignment Wednesday in Canfield. A pretrial hearing is set for March 20.
Items police took from his car included two empty beer bottles and two plastic cups containing what appeared to be beer, according to the arresting officer's report. His driver's license was also seized and his driving privileges suspended.
In a written letter to Poage informing him of the suspension, Panezott noted, "If this case results in a conviction on the OVI charge it is my intention to terminate your employment with the City of Salem Police Department."
Poage had been with the department since June 1993 and in that time he received numerous favorable performance evaluation reports which included high praise for his neatness, efficiency, cooperativeness, judgment, dependability, initiative and public relations.
The latest report dated in 2009 and signed by former Chief Bob Floor and Lt. Don Beeson said he did an "excellent job of seeing cases through to the end." The report also said he related to people well, resulting in several confessions.
He received a commendation for an act of valor in March 1998 when his actions resulted in saving the life of a young man in Salem. He received another commendation in August 1997 for an investigation of multiple thefts which resulted in the return of some electronic equipment. Letters from people he had helped recognized his professionalism and abilities in serving the public.
His record, though, also included other disciplinary suspensions besides the one he received this week.
According to a record of disciplinary action from Jan. 8, 2009, Poage was suspended for 30 days without pay for "reporting for duty while intoxicated."
A letter in 2010 from former city Service/Safety Director Steve Andres said he received a verbal warning for excessive absenteeism in March 2010 and a written reprimand in May 2010 and then in October 2010, he was suspended for three days without pay for excessive absenteeism, noting the taking of sick days before scheduled days off.
In March 2011, he was suspended without pay for 15 days, again for excessive absenteeism, a report of disciplinary action said.
According to records of disciplinary action for September 1999, he was suspended without pay for periods of 15 days and three days related to an off-duty incident in February 1999. He had been charged with misdemeanor counts for alleged criminal damaging, aggravated menacing and discharging a firearm while intoxicated by Perry Township Police, but was acquitted.
He later filed a lawsuit against the Perry Township Police Department and Perry Township which was eventually settled, with no details of the settlement released.
With Poage gone and another patrolman injured on the job, Panezott said he's currently down a pair of officers. He had already started to move the sergeant who's working part-time with the Columbiana County Drug Task Force to full-time with the DTF, but pulled him back because he's needed to help with coverage. Plans to move another patrolman to sergeant and then hire another patrolman also remain pending.
Panezott said a civil service examination for patrolman is scheduled for March 26. Eventually he'll be hiring two new patrolmen, one to replace Poage and one to replace the officer who will move to sergeant.