Tuesday, February 7th, 2023
Tuesday, February 7th, 2023

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Sportsmen Since 1967

Charges dismissed against DNR officer

Georgetown, Ohio – Brown County wildlife officer Allan Wright
returned to work May 24 after criminal charges involving the DNR
employee were dismissed by a special prosecutor.

Wright was indicted April 2 along with five other DNR Division
of Wildlife employees as the result of an investigation by the
watchdog unit of the Ohio Inspector General.

The IG investigation involved an allegation Wright assisted a
South Carolina wildlife officer in 2006 to obtain a fraudulent $19
Ohio resident hunting license by telling the officer to use
Wright’s address on the license. A nonresident license costs $125.
Wright also was accused of creating a false document by checking in
the South Carolina man’s three deer kills in Ohio by using Wright’s
home address.

Special Prosecutor David Kelley of Adams County dismissed the
charges against Wright on May 11 to allow Kelley time to conduct an
independent investigation of Wright for possible presentation to a
Brown County grand jury.

The DNR had placed Wright on paid administrative leave after his
indictment on two felony counts of tampering with records and one
count of falsification.

“It is our understanding that the Brown County prosecutor has
reserved the right to bring charges against Officer Wright in the
future,” said Mike Shelton, chief of ODNR external affairs, in an
e-mail. “If that does occur, ODNR will react accordingly. However
until then, ODNR’s prior reprimand of Officer Wright for his action
regarding the sale of an in-state hunting license to a resident of
another state will stand and remain part of his personnel
file.”

The Division of Wildlife conducted an internal administrative
investigation of Wright’s alleged actions in 2008. Before he was
interviewed by DOW special investigator Paul Kurfis, Wright was
given what is known as a Garrity warning, which refers to a U.S.
Supreme Court case, which ensures any potentially incriminating
statements by a public employee under the threat of discharge or
discipline cannot be used in a state criminal case because such
statements were coerced.

During the interview with Kurfis, Wright admitted helping South
Carolina Wildlife Officer Eric Vaughn obtain an Ohio resident
hunting license using Wright’s home address and admitted checking
in three deer killed by Vaughn in Ohio using Wright’s home address
and badge number on the harvest report. Wright told Kurfis it was
common practice in southwestern Ohio for Kentucky and Indiana
wildlife officers to hunt in Ohio using resident Ohio licenses,
according to the IG investigative report.

As a result of the administrative investigation, the Division of
Wildlife issued Wright a verbal reprimand for failure of good
behavior. In addition, DOW Chief David Graham issues two directives
in 2008 prohibiting DOW personnel from accepting hunting, fishing,
or trapping licenses from another state and barring nonresidents
from purchasing Ohio resident hunting, fishing, trapping, or
wildlife-related licenses.

Wright, Kelley, and Wright’s attorney, Patrick Gregory, of
Bethel, Ohio, did not return phone messages for comment.

The same grand jury that indicted Wright returned one count each
of felony obstruction of justice and complicity to obstruction of
justice against Graham, Assistant Chief Randy Miller, Law
Enforcement Administrator James Lehman, Human Resources Manager
Michele Ward-Tackett, and District 5 Manager Todd Haines.

“The public employee’s choice between asserting Fifth Amendment
privilege or answering questions under the threat of discipline
and/or prosecution is no choice as it places the employee ‘between
the rock and the whirlpool,’ “ Gary Rosenhoffer, attorney for
Graham, stated in court filings seeking dismissal of Graham’s
indictment.

Rosenhofer claimed in court filings the state’s sole witness
before the Brown County grand jury was Ohio IG investigator Don
Nichols. Nichols interviewed Graham Feb. 1 concerning alleged
criminal activity by Officer Wright.

Because Nichols was the only witness “before the grand jury that
issued the indictment in this case and the fact that the Brown
County prosecutor has publicly and through discovery, committed to
relying upon the OIG’s report in seeking Graham’s indictment, it
appears that . . . this indictment must be dismissed,” Rosenhofer
stated in court papers.

Brown County Prosecutor Jessica Little argued the court should
not dismiss the indictment because Graham’s statements were not
forced and are not protected under the Supreme Court’s Garrity
decision.

Graham willingly agreed to an interview with Nichols, his
statements to Nichols were not coerced, and the IG had no authority
to fire Graham, Little told the court opposing dismissal of the
indictment. The only oath Nichols administered Graham was to tell
the truth under threat of criminal sanctions if Graham provided
false information, Little stated.

Graham also argued that because he was a state employee, he was
compelled by Ohio law to cooperate with the IG.

Little countered that while Ohio law provides for termination
for noncompliance, the Ohio IG can seek a court contempt order
against an employee who refuses to answer questions, which is
designed to protect an employee’s right against
self-incrimination.

In a separate motion, Graham seeks to suppress his statements to
the IG investigator because he was coerced by contract to cooperate
with the IG investigation or be terminated for insubordination.

Little argued that “regardless of ODNR Disciplinary Policy, (IG
investigator) Nichols at no time forced the defendant (Graham) to
choose between losing his job or answering questions.”

All of the other five DNR employees will remain on paid
administrative leave while their court cases are pending in Brown
County, Shelton said.

A hearing is set June 18 in Brown County Common Pleas Court on
Graham’s motons.

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