As I wrote late last week, Ohio Department of Public Safety Director Tom Charles and his Chief Legal Counsel James Canepa, in conjuction with the Attorney General’s office, are attempting to expand the jurisdiction of the Ohio State Highway Patrol by allowing them to investigate crimes at the Lake Erie Correctional Facility (LECF), the prison in Conneaut that Kasich sold to CCA on December 31st, 2011.

State law is very clear: the Patrol’s jurisdiction is limited only to state properties that are “owned or leased by the state” unless there is a “riot, civil disorder, or insurrection” and even then, only if ordered by the Governor and only after local law enforcement or civilian leaders request the assistance.

Based on a request from Canepa, AG DeWine incorrectly ruled that the Patrol could continue to operate in the prison since it was still considered a “state institution.” As we mentioned, AG DeWine conveniently overlooked the part of the law that says the prison must be “owned or leased by the state,” which the newly-privatized prison clearly is not.

If Charles and Canepa follow through with their plans, they are putting Ohio’s troopers personally at risk by insisting that they conduct investigations outside of their jurisdiction. Canepa’s attempts to circumvent the law, and DeWine’s decision in his favor, don’t change the fact that state law does not give the Patrol authority on private property.

Law enforcement officers are generally entitled to qualified immunity for good faith actions taken in the course of their duties. This means that officers avoid personal liability for actions but only if the officers are acting within the scope of their authority. If the officers are outside of their authority, they could be held personally liable.

This is not the first time Canepa has has come up with a questionable legal interpretation, damaging the state by trying to make the law fit his boss’s goals.

In 2004, the Ohio Association of Chiefs of Police sought to obtain Homeland Security Grant Funds to establish a computer network designed to link police agencies throughout the state. The grant was initially rejected by the federal government because funds could only be used by local government agencies. Canepa, then Chief Deputy Attorney General under AG Jim Petro, provided a legal opinion that the nonprofit, nongovernmental Ohio Association of Chiefs of Police (OACP) was a “Regional Planning Commission,” thus making OACP eligible for $21 Million in federal Homeland Security money that was intended for local governments.

Officials at the Attorney General’s Office and the Ohio Department of Public Safety both believed that Canepa’s opinion was absolutely wrong. This should be obvious. Regional Planning Commissions are created by joint resolutions of local and county governments under Revised Code 713.21. Usually, Regional Planning Commissions make recommendations for land use patterns, transportation improvements, parks and recreational facilities, water supply and sewer issues, and other public improvements which affect the development of an entire region rather than a single county or municipality.

Strickland’s Officials at Public Safety authorized an audit of OACP’s spending that revealed that the OACP wasted almost $5 million of the grant money they were given, including direct payments of $800,000 to the OACP’s former executive director and $227,000 used to send officials, including Canepa!, to Turkey.

A later audit conducted by the Homeland Security Inspector General concluded that the State of Ohio – through the Office of Emergency Management – was required to repay to the federal government almost $5 million. No word on where this money will come from. Also, no word on whether any of the officials responsible for the creation and monitoring of this program will suffer any consequences.

Canepa was never investigated for his part in this huge scandal, even though he arranged for the grant that was likely improper and then personally benefitted by participating in the trip to Turkey, possibly because he was working for Tom Charles at the Inspector General’s Office by the time it all came to light.

Obviously, Charles values Canepa more for his loyalty than his legal skills. Which explains why he brought Canepa with him to Public Safety and is now using Canepa to help push his agenda. Charles and Canepa’s legal bumbling is putting their own people, rank and file troopers, at personal risk of litigation in order score a few minor political points.