EAST PALESTINE -An Air Force veteran recently charged with disorderly conduct is claiming he was mistreated by East Palestine police during the annual Street Fair last week.
Eric Goempel, 43, Ellis Street, was charged by police after he reportedly became upset when questioned about his service dog, which he says was prescribed to help him handle post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
He said he and his 13-year-old son were walking to the fair when somebody reached out and grabbed hold of the lead to his service dog and told him no pets were allowed in that area.
The man in plainclothes identified himself as police Chief Kevin Dickey, he added.
Goempel said he pointed to the vest his dog was wearing identifying her as a medical service dog, and also said he had paperwork available proving that fact in the bag on the belt he wears that is attached to the lead.
"It is marked on her she is a medical alert service dog for PTSD. She carries all my medications on me and gives me up to 15 minutes' notice through touching different parts of my body to tell me when I am about to have an episode. She will pretty much cut off me having a panic attack or anxiety attack," he explained.
He said when the chief attempted to take him into a private street to ask questions he refused and said, "Anything we have to discuss I want to do in public."
What followed next, according to Goempel, was Dickey and another officer began to unhook the lead from his waist to separate him from the dog, but he kept refusing to allow them.
"She has been side by side for me 24 hours a day seven days a week since I got her four years ago. She does not leave my side. If I cut grass she is right there beside me when I am cutting grass," he said.
He didn't believe the refusal should be considered disrespectful or resisting and questioned if the officers would have done the same thing to a blind person.
Shortly after his refusal, he said, two officers placed him in handcuffs, with one of them removing the lead, and he and his son and dog were taken to the police station.
"As soon as I became handcuffed I told him (his son) to record everything that was happening on video, so he pulled his cell phone out and started recording," he said.
He claims the phone was taken from his son and the video deleted by officers at the station.
"Apparently the police have denied that they had anything to do with this," he said.
While at the station he said he began having a panic attack due to being separated from his dog and his son, so the officers put him back in handcuffs and placed him in a jail cell.
"I was told I was being arrested for disorderly conduct. I then waited for them to read me my Miranda rights, which they never did," he said.
Goempel believes his rights were violated during the incident and that the police department needs to be more educated about service dog owner rights. Owners are only required to do two things, he said, and those are marking the dog as a service dog, and providing information as to what service they are providing.
"I feel that as a disabled veteran and a person living with a service dog, it was extremely disrespectful," he said of the encounter. "I wasn't out to start a fight I was just out to stand up for the rights of every person who has a service dog."
He also said the chief told him that the department was receiving complaints about the dog being at the fair.
When contacted, Dickey did not wish to comment.
Pam Figley, who was selling raffle tickets during the fair and witnessed the arrest, said Dickey did nothing wrong and that Goempel was out of order.
"What I saw and heard was he came along and Kevin Dickey, nice man, very polite man, in a low tone said there were no dogs allowed at the fair, and this man became irate and told his son to start videotaping - he was hollering at him to start videotaping 'right now!'" she said.
Goempel immediately became loud, cursing and later threatening to sue the police, and all the while Dickey remained calm, she said.
"He handled it very well, I thought," she said of the chief.
Goempel she described as being "profane and rude" and a "mark on the street fair" that was otherwise "perfect."
Figley did hear Goempel tell Dickey it was a service dog, but she said he did not provide any papers stating such, despite Dickey asking more than two times. She also saw the dog was wearing a vest.
She said Village Manager Pete Monteleone walked over after hearing the commotion and asked Goempel to be cooperative with the chief, but he continued being loud.
Monteleone could not reached by phone Wednesday.
Figley said Dickey removed the service dog only after Goempel refused to provide paperwork showing the dog was in fact a service dog. She said she heard Dickey tell Goempel that if no papers were produced then the dog would be removed, either by himself or Goempel.
According to municipal court documents, Patrolman Jordan Reynolds said in an affidavit that Goempel recklessly caused "inconvenience, annoyance or alarm to another by making unreasonable noise or any offensively course utterance, gesture, or display or communicating unwarranted and grossly abusive language to any person after receiving a warning to cease and desist."
Reynolds and Patrolman Alex Pryor were called to the scene by the chief and witnessed the chief give Goempel "numerous opportunities to calm down and leave the street fair," according to the affidavit.
Goempel chose not to adhere to the warnings and was charged. He is scheduled to appear in municipal court before Judge Mark Frost on Tuesday.
According to municipal court records available online Goempel's only prior offenses are for speeding.