Tuesday, July 24, 2012

UPDATED/CORRECTED: Wright to be called as prosecution witness against two other Wildlife Division officers

Jessica Little, Brown County prosecutor, says she intends to call disgraced and former state wildlife officer Allan Wright when the two recently indicted fellow agents go to trial.

On July 19, Ohio Division of Wildlife officers Dave Warner and Matthew Roberts were indicted in Brown County Court of Common Pleas for Theft in Office, a 5th Degree Felony; and Tampering with Records, a Third Degree Felony. Warner was also indicted for Dereliction of Duty, a Second Degree misdemeanor.

The charges stem from the pair’s alleged activity of hunting while on duty, and also for allegedly turning in bogus time slips that supposedly showed they were on duty when they were allegedly hunting.

Documents and testimony also allege that the two were in the company of Wright, the former state wildlife officer assigned to Brown County.

It was Little who in 2010 brought charges against five current or former Wildlife Division officers. Among them was Wright who was sentenced July 17 in federal court for violating the federal Lacey Act.

Brown’s case against the Wildlife Division’s remaining officials is now before the Ohio Supreme Court, which will decide on the merits of a technical point of law.

Though Little’s assistant, Chris VanHarlingen, covered the Grand Jury case involving Warner and Roberts, the prosecutor says she will likely handle the actual trial.

“This is what I would consider a pretty substantial document case,” Little said. “Practically everything can be obtained through a public records check.”

Little said she saw the online photograph that launched the investigation by the Ohio Inspector General 's office which ultimately presented its findings to the Brown County prosecutor.

This photograph shows Wright and Warner together with four others along with seven dead deer. These animals were allegedly taken during Ohio’s firearms deer-hunting season when the wildlife officers allegedly claimed they were on duty. (The original version of this story incorrectly stated that Roberts also appears in the photograph.)

“There are some concerns about this being the gun season which is supposed to be the busiest time of year, making sure that everyone is properly licensed, have the right firearms,” Little said. “They sacrificed public safety.”

Also asked about any thought of charging Wright with the same counts since he also figures in the photograph and records, Little says the former state wildlife has been granted immunity.

“And that’s something that will obviously being an issue in this case but Wright will appear as a witness for the state,” Little said.

When such an appearance by Wright will occur is still unknown, however, says Little, with no court appearance date yet set for Warner and Roberts.

Little did say, though, that she has been contacted by an attorney with the Fraternal Order of Police, the union which represents most of the Wildlife Division’s commissioned officers.

“I don’t anticipate a lot of delay since we don’t seem to have a lot evidence that could be challenged because it’s such a strong document case,” Little says. “Within the next six to nine months.”

Asked as well if she is aware of whether or not any other Wildlife Division officer or official is currently under investigation, Little says she cannot comment since that is “not in my purview.”

- Jeffrey L. Frischkorn
Twitter: @Fieldkorn

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