Wednesday, February 1st, 2023
Wednesday, February 1st, 2023

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Agency report: Cops hunted while on duty

Columbus — The Ohio Inspector General’s Office has implicated 18 employees of the Ohio DNR Division of Wildlife in a probe that indicates they hunted deer in 2009-10 while on duty or falsified work records to obtain pay they were not entitled to receive.

The report indicates that three wildlife officers harvested multiple deer, one officer harvested deer in two different counties, and officers killed deer in 18 different counties.

The watchdog agency’s findings were the result of an earlier investigation in 2012, which led to criminal prosecutions in Brown County, Ohio. As a result, a wildlife field supervisor and a wildlife officer were found to have wrongfully hunted while on duty. Both officers were fired by the DNR.

The IG investigators “suspecting the activities might be more than an isolated incident,” identified a group of 490 wildlife division employees who reported harvesting deer and concluded 18 employees, one since retired, had conflicting information, which showed wrongful conduct: on-duty deer hunting or off-duty and falsifying work records to obtain pay they should not have received, according to a news release.

Previous investigations had documented Division of Wildlife officers did not follow ODNR communication policy of marking on-duty at the beginning of ther shifts, off-duty at the end of their shifts or provide hourly updates of their status. In addition, the division does not audit or compare the number of hours marked on-duty, the IG report stated.

“This lack of accountability and supervision along with the failure of wildlife officers’ compliance with the communication policy is also an officer safety issue,” the IG report concluded.

The IG’s findings of the officers and counties involved have been forwarded to Ohio county prosecuting attorneys for review. The officers who were implicated in the probe are listed below along with their county of assignment during the investigation: David Gilkey (Adams), Brian Baker (Belmont), Joshua Zientek (Butler), Jeffrey Tipton (Champaign), David Brown and Nicholas Turner (Columbiana), Matthew Smith (Defiance), Roy Rucker (Fayette), Brad Kiger (Franklin), Roy Rucker (Gallia), Scott Denamen (Geauga), James Carnes (Highland), Troy Reimund (Hocking), Jeremy Carter (Holmes), Ryan Garrison (Mercer), Brian Bury (Sandusky), Brett Barnes (Stark), Travis Abele (Vinton), and Brian Baaske (Wyandot).

Charles Zientek, the father of officer Joshua Zientek, contacted Ohio Outdoor News to say his son, the Huron County wildlife officer, was on vacation when he harvested a deer in Butler County.
Zientek claimed 14 hours of regular pay for Dec. 20, 2009, the day the IG claims he harvested a deer on duty. According to Zientek's unit-history log, he did not check his deer until Jan. 1, 2010, on a day he claimed eight hours of holiday leave, according to the IG report.

The Division of Wildlife has temporarily reassigned 17 officers identified in the IG report and placed the officers on paid administrative duties, DNR spokeswoman Bethany McCorkle said. The 18th officer implicated in the investigation has since retired.

“We will do our own internal investigation and gather our own documentation,” McCorkle said. “Each (officer) will have an opportunity to have an interview.”

Because of the reassignments with the muzzleloader deer hunt  set for Jan. 4-7, McCorkle said the DNR will ensure each county has commissioned law-enforcement officers in the field to enforce hunting laws and ensure hunter safety.

On Dec. 20, the Ohio Fraternal Order of Police issued a statement of support  for the 18 officers.

In addition, the FOP writes in a memorandum sent to prosecutors of counties named in the report that the IG refused to to interview many of the 18 officers.

The IG stated letters requesting interviews were sent to 26 employees and only eight responded, and none of those employees agreed to be interviewed.

“What the OIG failed to mention in his report is for years it was common for employees in the wildlife division of ODNR to submit time sheets that did not accurately show the hours they worked in order for the state to avoid overtime,” according to the FOP statement.

Prior to 2012, wildlife officers worked flexible 40 hour work weeks, according to the FOP statement of support.

“This flexibility allowed for the officers to respond to call out by other law enforcement agencies . . . or other situations that would have allowed for overtime. In these situations the officer would list the eight hours of work instead of asking for and receiving overtime,” according to the FOP statement.

“As a result of the unique nature of the job, wildlife officers were instructed to put ‘straight eights’ on their time sheets as long as they worked at least 40 hours per week,” the FOP stated in its memorandum. 

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