The dash cam was mounted just below the police cruiser’s roof, in perfect position to capture the 26-year patrolman’s transformation from concerned father to authority-abusing police officer.
On that day in April, John Kovach’s 18-year-old daughter, Katlyn, was dating an 18-year-old her parents didn’t approve of named Makai Coleman.
She wasn’t responding to her father’s attempts to talk, so Kovach tracked his daughter’s computer to a friend’s house on West 34th Street in Lorain, Ohio, he told investigators. Then he sat in his patrol cruiser, waiting.
When Coleman’s silver Pontiac drove past, Kovach flipped on his flashing lights and initiated the traffic stop that would end his two decades with the Lorain Police Department.
“You can get out,” the officer told Coleman, according to a profanity-filled video of the interaction. “You’re going to jail.”
When Coleman asked why, his girlfriend’s dad told him: “Have a seat in my car. We’ll make [expletive] up while we go.”
Lorain Police Chief Cel Rivera and Safety-Service Director Dan Given said those statements and several other things that happened during a nearly nine-minute stretch were violations of the department’s standards of conduct and policy procedures, according to the Elyria Chronicle-Telegram.
“These actions are not acceptable for members of our Police Department, and we felt it warranted immediate dismissal,” Given told the newspaper.
Kovach has been fired after an internal investigation, but the case is not over. The local district attorney is reviewing the case to see whether Kovach broke the law in his treatment of his daughter, her boyfriend and several other people that day.
The police union has appealed the case on his behalf.
“Clearly, he acted outside of the purview of his duty as an officer of the law,” Fraternal Order of Police Lodge No. 3 President Kyle Gelenius said in a statement tweeted out by the FOP. “Despite this, it is still our job to offer our members fair and neutral representation such as John Kovach has requested.”
The month-long internal investigation by police sought to untangle the mix of private and professional troubles that has unraveled Kovach’s life. He could not be reached for comment. His former police chief did not immediately respond to messages from The Washington Post.
Kovach told investigators that he didn’t believe Coleman was a good person and objected to the young man dating his daughter, who was staying with her boyfriend against her parents’ wishes, according to an internal affairs report obtained by the Chronicle-Telegram. The officer’s wife told officials that she had once come home and found his daughter having sex with Coleman, sparking another argument.
Kovach said when he spoke with his daughter on the phone, she said, “If I can’t be with him, I don’t want to be here anymore.” He told investigators that he believed his daughter was threatening suicide.
But Katlyn Kovach’s boyfriend told investigators that her father had threatened in the past to use his authority to make the teen’s life difficult, solely because he didn’t want the couple to date.
The officer had threatened to take out unspecified arrest warrants against Coleman, the newspaper reported. Because Coleman had planned to go into the military, John Kovach said he would talk to his enlistment officer.
Coleman didn’t immediately respond to messages from The Post.
But Kovach’s dealings with his daughter and her boyfriend were not the only issues that investigators say violated department policy that day.
The officer also got into it with Gloria Morales, whose children were riding in Coleman’s car when John Kovach pulled it over. The officer asked to search her home for his daughter and accused Morales of hiding the teen.
Morales accused him of abusing his authority to deal with family strife and using department time and resources to bully people into cooperating.
“You’re obstructing me,” he warned her in return. “This is your last warning.”
When she walked away, threatening to call his superiors, he gave another warning: “If you call 911, you’re going to jail.”
In the end, Kovach managed to get his daughter, who had been hiding in the Pontiac, into the back of his cruiser. She cursed and shrieked at him, telling him that what he was doing was illegal and that he couldn’t detain her without cause.
But Morales made good on her threat to call 911. Another officer arrived at the scene, and the department began to take a harder look at Kovach’s actions that night — and his inattention to actual police matters.
While Kovach was dealing with his daughter and her boyfriend, someone else needed his help.
Somewhere in another part of the city, a woman had dialed 911, the video showed. Her boyfriend or husband had threatened her with a weapon, and she wanted officers to come to the scene to defuse the situation.
Kovach was listed as available, so dispatchers summoned him — but he never responded to the call.