Gerken charged with felony in 1984 riot; pleaded to lesser charge

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TOLEDO - Thirty-two years ago, a major riot broke out at the old AP Parts plant on Matzinger Road.

Hundreds of union workers, protesting cuts in wages and benefits, rioted.

Dozens were arrested, including a man who is now running for re-election in November.

Lucas County commissioner Pete Gerken admits he was there that day, but his story of what happened differs from an officer who claims he was on the scene.

In May of 1984, Pete Gerken was a union activist at Jeep.

He and dozens of others from unions across the city protested in support of workers at AP Parts.

Those union workers were being replaced by non-union workers.

But a lawful assembly protesting management, quickly erupted into an all- out riot.

Now an issue in this year's commissioners race.

That day in May was tense, but it boiled over when someone drove a car hauler through the company gate.

Police were there to keep protesters off the lot but a riot broke out.

A police officer, on duty that day--and who does not want to be identified-- told us one of the rioters was Pete Gerken.

He says he saw Gerken pull out a baseball from under his orange Jeep jacket.

Then the officer says, Gerken, "raised the bat with his right arm, because it was in his right hand, raised it over his head like he was going to strike someone and charge the police line. And I grabbed the bat and, as I did so, I struck him in the shoulder to get him to release the bat."

Pete Gerken, who has been a county commissioner since 2004, is seeking re-election.

He remembers that day, but insists he was not armed.

He told 13abc reporter Bill Hormann, "I never had a baseball bat."

Gerken admits he was on the frontline of the protest that day and was arrested on a felony charge of aggravated rioting.

But he says he did nothing more than chant in support his union brothers.

When asked why he would have been charged originally with with aggravated rioting, Gerken said, "The situation devolved very quickly and I, I can't speak to that but here's what I pled to: I pled to, at the prosecutor's request of, I believe, failure to disperse."

Gerken also says he paid a $50 fine.

But with regard to wielding a baseball bat, the police report, written the day of the riot says, "One person in the crowd approached this officer carrying a baseball bat and tried to enter the property... The person I arrested was Peter L. Gerken.":

Gerken told 13abc his brother, Sgt. George Gerken, was the arresting officer.

The officer we talked to confirms Sgt George Gerken was on the scene and had even pointed out Pete Gerken, his younger brother, before the riot broke out.

The officer also claims to have told police union leaders about this incident over the years but nothing was done.

The officer says, "I don't think Mr, Gerken has a moral character and I don't like it one bit."

Last week, the Toledo Police Patrolman's Association endorsed Democrat Pete Gerken over Republican challenger Mike Bell.

As for what happened that day, commissioner Gerken is proud of what he did.

"I stood up for workers in '84," he says. "I'm still standing up for the middle class and fair wage, living wage jobs today."

Challenger Mike Bell did not want to comment on this story.

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