Cleveland Metroparks police waited 10 days to notify the public about a July 23 armed robbery and a July 24 suspicious incident in the Rocky River Reservation, seven weeks after a June 4 double homicide that still has nearby residents and park visitors on edge.
News broke on Friday about the two reported incidents, both only a short distance from where bodies of Carnell Sledge, 40, and Katherine Brown, 33, were found June 4. Social media exploded, with most of the posters wondering why they were just hearing about the incidents 10 days after they happened.
Metroparks spokeswoman Jacqueline Gerling responded by email Monday to questions about why police did not release details about the incidents until Aug. 2 and what steps Metroparks police are taking to ensure the safety of park patrons and employees. They have said little about the ongoing investigation into the shooting deaths of Sledge and Brown.
In response to an inquiry that included questions about whether the park district increased patrols or the number of officers assigned to the reservation, the email read in part: “Guest and employee safety remain the top priority of the Cleveland Metroparks Police Department. Cleveland Metroparks Police Department has approximately 90 full and part-time officers patrolling the Park District’s 18 reservations 24/7. To maximize the impact of our law enforcement strategy, we can’t comment specifically on our police patrol tactics."
Asked about how many employees work at the reservation, she said, "We do not have a document that breaks down staff by reservation but staffing fluctuates across the park district depending on needs.”
Her email does not address or answer why Metroparks didn’t release details about the two July incidents immediately. In a brief news conference June 6, Metroparks Police Chief Katherine Dolan said that park officials believed the killings were an isolated incident and overall, "the safety of parks is not in question."
The Rocky River Reservation follows the Rocky River from Berea almost to Lake Erie. It touches parts of Berea, Brook Park, Cleveland, Fairview Park, Lakewood, North Olmsted, Olmsted Township and Rocky River. It includes a nature center, marina, stables, and three golf courses.
West Life, which since early spring has made getting access to Metroparks' police reports a priority, stepped up inquiries via email and telephone messages following the double homicide. Last week, West Life called and emailed Gerling several times before the armed robbery was disclosed about whether there had been any "criminal incidents" during that time. West Life received no response.
On Sunday, FBI Special Agent Vickie Anderson referred all questions to the Cleveland Metroparks, saying park officers are the lead investigators. Anderson said the FBI is helping investigate the shootings of Sledge and Brown.
Details police released Friday evening said a woman was robbed between 3 p.m. and 4 p.m. July 23 in the Morley Ford parking lot north of the Lorain Road bridge on Valley Parkway, close to where the bodies of Sledge and Brown were found. The victim told police she had stepped outside her car to smoke a cigarette when two men approached her, put a gun to her head and demanded money. When the woman said she didn’t have any, they said they saw a purse in her car and forced her to walk to her car and give them cash. The men were described as a white man with a thin build, wearing gloves, and a black man. Both were described as being in their late 20s. The black man was wearing a ski mask, but the woman said she could see his forearm as he held the gun. As the two ran off toward nearby woods, she said she felt something scratch her temple and believed it was the gun as the man pulled it away and ran off.
In the July 24 incident, a woman driving her 16-year-old son to his seasonal maintenance job in the Metroparks at 5:40 a.m. was stopped on Hogsback Lane as she was about to turn south on Valley Parkway. The driver of a sedan northbound on Valley Parkway slowed down, repeatedly honked his horn and waved his arm outside the window. The woman pulled alongside, thinking he needed help or wanted to warn her of a road closure, but she noticed immediately that a backseat passenger was holding a "silver object." Thinking it was a gun, she sped away.
Residents in the streets directly above the shooting site in the Rocky River Reservation are worried about the easy access from the valley to their neighborhood. Some also said they don’t understand why police have not asked whether anyone saw anything or had outside security cameras.
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