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Columbus FOP president resigns, Executive Vice President Brian Steel chosen as new leader

Fraternal Order of Police Capital City Lodge #9 President Brian Steel
Fraternal Order of Police Capital City Lodge #9 President Brian Steel

Columbus' Fraternal Order of Police President Jeff Simpson resigned from his post and the organization has chosen former Executive Vice President Brian Steel as its new leader.

Steel told WOSU Tuesday he became the leader of the FOP's Capital City Lodge #9 on Friday after months of serving as the union's primary spokesperson and acting president. Simpson was being investigated by the city of Columbus after a Black city employee complained about comments Simpson made on social media last year about lynching and Jason Aldean's controversial song "Try That in a Small Town."

The city's investigation was put on hold indefinitely as the Franklin County Court of Common Pleas considers a lawsuit by Simpson and the FOP seeking to halt it.

A magistrate granted a preliminary injunction and temporary restraining order requested by the FOP in February that halted the investigation. That TRO will remain in effect until the case is resolved. It is scheduled to get a trial assignment in 2025, according to the case's schedule.

Steel said Simpson resigned and the union's constitution and bylaws called for the him to step up. He said Simpson has retired from the Columbus Division of Police after more than 25 years with the department.

Columbus Police Sgt. Sergeant Joe Albert said Simpson retired on April 4.

Steel wants to build relationship with cities and police departments, have union and cities hold each other accountable

Steel will take over what he says is the fourth-largest FOP union in the country which represents 28 agencies in the central Ohio region. Steel said he still has to meet and familiarize himself with some police chiefs, mayors and councilmembers, but is making progress.

Steel said his goal is to build relationships with city officials, but also hold them accountable. He said 2020 is when the relationship between the union and city officials went downhill and there is still "some scar tissue there."

"I am pledging to build a harmonious relationship and foster relationships with city officials. I'll also hold city officials and management accountable when they fall short. On the flip side of that, I expect city officials and our members to hold me accountable if I ever fall short," Steel said.

Steel said cities need to respect the union's contract and collective bargaining agreement (CBA) because Ohio is a union state. "This is a union state, right? If you don't like working in a union state, I suggest going somewhere else, not Ohio," Steel said.

Magistrate calls Simpson's comments "abhorrent" in February decision, but halts investigation.

In his decision granting the TRO, Magistrate Mark Petrucci said the law allows for a preliminary injunction to preserve a status between parties pending on a trial on the merits.

Simpson and the FOP were requesting this action and argued that the investigation could harm and chill the rights of the FOP and the CBA between the city and the union. The FOP argued Simpson's words were "union activity" and were protected.

Fraternal Order of Police Capital City Lodge 9 President Jeffrey Simpson sits at his desk.
Fraternal Order Of Police Capital City Lodge 9
Fraternal Order of Police Capital City Lodge 9 President Jeffrey Simpson

The city argued its intentions were pure and that it would never utilize the investigation to harm the city's relationship with the FOP.

Petrucci wrote that the city failed to blunt the FOP's argument. Petrucci also wrote that the FOP was not supporting "the abhorrent nature" of Mr. Simpson's post.

"Be it a positive or negative statement, the issue remains the same for the FOP. Its leaders must be free to act in their capacity as union officers without fear of reprisal," Petrucci wrote.

Petrucci said the grievance against Simpson will proceed and an arbitrator appointed under the CBA will make the final decision on the validity of the FOP's argument. He said this arbitrator will be able to authorize or stop the investigation entirely.

Petrucci said it is in everyone's best interest for the court to suspend the current investigation until the arbitrator hears the matter so it doesn't cause harm to the FOP or the officers it represents in the meantime. Petrucci said his decision does not mean the court supports Mr. Simpson's post and it would be "irrational to claim otherwise."

The FOP's lawyers and the Columbus City Attorneys working on the case did not respond to a request for comment.

What comes next?

The civil case's schedule currently lists several dates for the upcoming trial.

Throughout the rest of 2024, the case will have discovery, pre-trial and case management conferences. A final pre-trial conference is set for January and a trial assignment is scheduled to happen in February of 2025.

Steel said he plans to familiarize himself with the lawsuit with the FOP's legal team in the coming weeks and will have an update on what comes next in the lawsuit.

"I was not involved in any of those (lawsuits) from the get go. So it would be improper to even speak on it," Steel said.

Steel will be in the office until at least November, when the union is set to hold its biannual elections for leadership.

George Shillcock is a reporter for 89.7 NPR News. He joined the WOSU newsroom in April 2023 following three years as a reporter in Iowa with the USA Today Network.