The three remaining Ohio Division of Wildlife officials who are under indictment in Brown County were today placed on unpaid administrative leave by the parent Ohio Department of Natural Resources.
These officials include the Wildlife Division’s Human Resource Manager Michele Ward-Tackett, its Law Enforcement Executive Administrator Jim Lehman, and District Five (southwest Ohio) Manager Todd Haines. Each was indicted on single counts of obstruction of justice and complicity to obstructing justice.
Not impacted by this action are now-retired former Wildlife Division chief David Graham and now retired Wildlife Division assistant chief Randy Miller. Each of these two are also under the same indictment.
The five defendants lost a legal round Monday before Ohio’s 12th District Court of Appeals. That court ruled in favor of Brown County prosecutor Jessica A. Little.
It was Little who argued that the five are not protected by the so-called “Garity Rule.” This legal fiat protects certain government employees from testifying on matters if they believe that by doing would jeopardize their jobs.
In their arguments before the appellate court judges the defendants’ attorneys said the rule applied to their clients, a position accepted by Brown County Common Pleas Court judge Scott Gusweiler but ultimately rejected by the higher court.
At that point the Natural Resources Department began a thorough review of the matter, promising a quick reply. This was done today, says Bethany McCorkle, the Natural Resources Department’s deputy chief of communications.
“There’s not much of a statement but the three have been placed on unpaid administrative leave as the legal system takes its course,” McCorkle said. “The three were placed on this administrative action because they are under indictment for felony charges before the Brown County Court system.”
While McCorkle said the Natural Resources Department does not intend to issue a further statement on the matter she did say that the unpaid administrative leave status of the three Wildlife Division officials will run for no more than two months.
After that period the Ohio Revised Code dictates that they be placed on paid administrative leave, McCorkle said also.
This story will be updated as additional information becomes available.
Jeffrey L. Frischkorn