Bethesda Hires Officers After More Step Down

BETHESDA — Council has appointed three new police officers in the wake of its chief’s suspension and four officer resignations — including the resignation of an officer who is the son of a council member who also resigned.

Council held a special meeting Thursday to welcome a full-time officer and two part-time officers. During the meeting, council swore in Pete Busack as a full-time officer to serve as security for Union Local Middle School. Zack Pickens and Robert Tate were approved as part-time officers.

The new officers bring the police force up to eight: three full-time officers, four part-time officers and an interim police chief.

Mayor Martin Lucas said he was confident the village could continue to fulfill it’s obligation to provide protection to Bethesda, Belmont, Morristown and the Union Local School District.

“We’re going to look at restructuring further,” said Lucas. “I’m not ruling out that we may hire some more in the future. All the new officers hired this evening have law-enforcement backgrounds.”

Eric Smith, who was suspended as police chief with pay in early April, is awaiting a hearing that would determine if complaints about his handling of police-related matters and comments he has made on social media sites warrant removing him from office. Meanwhile, council named Fred Thompson, a former Belmont County sheriff and former Bethesda police chief, as interim chief. Thompson’s position is an administrative post without pay, council has said.

After council appointed Thompson, Bethesda police officers Jeff Stephens and Julie Bilyeu resigned during the same April 9 meeting. They had served as security for Union Local Schools. Then, between the April 9 special meeting and the special meeting council had Thursday, officers B.J. Bee and Zach Toldza submitted their resignations.

B.J. Bee is the son of Brian Bee, who also resigned as a councilman on April 9. Council will hold a special meeting Monday to fill the seat.

Lucas said B.J. Bee and Toldza took other jobs. Stephens cited health reasons and strain in the aftermath of Smith’s suspension as his reason. Bilyeu was explicit in her support of Smith.

Brian Bee said he left because his duties as the police department’s chaplain created a conflict of interest. Jay Van Horn was appointed to fill his seat.

Busack is a Bellaire resident whose law enforcement career began in 1988. He has worked at the sheriff’s office, Bellaire and Yorkville. Robert Tate is from Marietta and has three years of full-time law enforcement experience and four years correctional experience. Pickens, of Woodsfield, has four years experience in law enforcement.

All three new hires will start Monday.

“With the officers we’re putting to work next week that will ease our burden a good bit,” said Thompson.

Thompson has said Smith may be in violation of state statutes because he lives outside Bethesda and does some work in other villages. A former village police officer, Jack Sall, also alleged that Smith improperly stored evidence, which led to an altercation with Village Administrator Dirk Davis.

Another special meeting was scheduled for 7 p.m. Monday to appoint a new council member.