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Investigation of sheriff puts drug task force at risk

The News-Messenger,
BYLINE: Craig Shoup, Reporter,

Sandusky County, OH

2016-01-22_sheriff puts drug task force at risk_01Kyle Overmyer, Sandusky County Sheriff. (Photo: Molly Corfman/The News-Messenger)

FREMONT - County police chiefs have considered pulling funding and manpower from the county's newly formed drug task force because of an Attorney General's investigation into Sheriff Kyle Overmyer for collecting pills from prescription drug take-back programs.

While the task force is still moving forward, having hired agent Mark Apple last month, two of the county's six police chiefs voiced concerns about their cities' money going to the drug task force.

In a Nov. 18 email sent to Sandusky County police chiefs, obtained by The News-Messenger in a freedom of information request, Clyde Police Chief Bruce Gower and Bellevue Police Chief Mark Kaufman both said they were reluctant to get involved in the drug task force with Overmyer.

"As the investigation into the sheriff (or lack thereof) goes forward, I have concerns about starting and contributing to a county-wide drug task force," Gower said.

Overmyer said he took the boxes of prescription pills from the police agencies as a sign of good faith and to open the lines of communication between himself and other county law-enforcement officers. The sheriff, who is being challenged by Gower in the Republican primary March 15, said he believes the allegations are politically motivated.

Kaufman said he was reluctant to have his name associated with the task force, given the investigation into Overmyer.

"I too have concerns," Kaufman wrote, "firstly with the contributions that I request for the task force. I am responsible for the request and my endorsement. Under the current conditions, I will likely be asking for the City of Bellevue's contributions back and make it clear we will not participate.

"I personally cannot trust the sheriff after what he did, regardless of the outcome of an investigation," Kaufman said.

Dan Tierney, a spokesperson for the Ohio Attorney General's Office, said agents from the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation and Identification met with Sandusky County Prosecutor Tom Stierwalt on Friday and provided an update on the investigation.

"The investigation is still ongoing, but we are very close to a conclusion," Tierney said.

Growing frustration about the pace of the BCI investigation led the Sandusky County Police Chiefs Association to release a statement to the media on Jan. 8 detailing the case, despite an Oct. 29 email from Gibsonburg Police Chief Paul Whitaker, president of the association, saying that the chiefs had agreed to take no action until investigators released their findings.

Kaufman, meanwhile, sent an email Nov. 18 to the chiefs association saying that all the prescription drugs collected by the Drug Enforcement Administration had been accounted for except for the box collected at his Bellevue department.

Overmyer on Tuesday gave The News-Messenger a copy of a receipt from the Toledo DEA, dated Sept. 28, for 350 pounds of prescription pills from the sheriff's office to be incinerated in Toledo.

The investigation began in August after Sandusky County Sheriff's Detective Sean O'Connell looked into the sheriff's collection of prescription pills and the drugs appeared to be missing, according to the police chiefs. O'Connell turned the case over to BCI that same month.

The chiefs voiced frustration with the BCI investigation and a perceived lack of communication, and released their statement on Jan. 8 that was critical of the investigation.

Despite concerns over the drug task force's future, Apple began working for the county on Dec. 1, and grant funding and other contributions are being sought.

"In my eyes, it's going to be a positive addition to the community for law enforcement to fight a war on drugs, especially heroin," Overmyer said Friday.

The BCI investigation was expanded Jan. 15 when Whitaker filed a complaint alleging Overmyer tried to intimidate him after the sheriff and his sister, Tracy Overmyer, the Sandusky County clerk of courts, allegedly made threats about Whitaker to Gibsonburg mayor Steve Fought during a Sandusky County Republican Women's Meeting on Jan. 14.

Kyle Overmyer described the conversation as "very cordial" and said he was "shocked" to hear of Whitaker's complaint.

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