With the threat of a criminal trial now behind them, two members of the so-called “Brown County Five” continue to see their employment anchor hold with the Ohio Department of Natural Resources.
Indeed, one of the defendants even has his old job back within the department’s Ohio Division of Wildlife. Meanwhile the other person has decided to hold fast to her position in the department’s human resources section.
Todd Haines has returned as the supervisor for the Wildlife Division’s District Five (southwest Ohio) office while Michelle Ward-Tackett has decided to remain as a Natural Resources Department’s human resources supervisor, said departmental spokesman Matt Eiselstein.
Haines and Ward-Tackett in 2010 were named as defendants in a matter that led back to activities of the former state wildlife officer assigned to Brown County, Allan Wright.
Named with Haines and Ward-Tackett were former Wildlife Division chief David M. Graham and two other high-ranking agency officials; Randy L. Miller and James E. Lehman.
It was alleged by Brown County prosecutor Jessica Little that the five violated the law by treating Wright’s conduct as an internal disciplinary matter rather than as a criminal one. This action was taken after what later was charged as a poorly done investigation by the Ohio Inspector General.
All five defendants faced potential felony conviction for their alleged conduct.
However, the five fought the charges by claiming their right against self-incrimination via what’s called the Garrity Warning rule which protects certain public employees who fear their comments will cost them their jobs and possibly result in criminal charges.
The five’s appeal eventually reached the Ohio State Supreme Court. There the Supremes unanimously agreed that the Brown County Five did not have to answer questions originally posed by the Ohio Inspector General’s office.
Subsequently Little dismissed all charges against each of the five defendants.
Between the time of the charges being filed against the Brown County Five, Graham was fired while Miller and Lehman eventually retired. That being said, the Natural Resources Department found other jobs within the agency for both Haines and Ward-Tackett.
That is, until recently as Haines was awarded his old job back while Ward-Tackett decided to remain in the Natural Resources Department’s human relations section instead of returning to a generally similar post with the Wildlife Division.
“Neither (Haines nor Ward-Tackett) has any back pay pending as they have always remained in the employ of the department,”Eiselstein also said.
As for whether the Natural Resources Department intends to see the return of Graham - let alone Wright – that’s not going to happen, says Eiselstein as well.
“We do not have the expectation that either Mr. Graham or Mr. Wright will be rehired as neither is currently employed by the department,” Eiselstein said.
Even so, the Brown County Five remain united on another legal fight. All five are presently
seeking judgment against the Office of the Brown County (Ohio) Prosecutor, the Ohio Inspector General Office, the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, current Brown County Prosecutor Jessica A. Little, former ODNR deputy director Anthony J. Celebreeze III, former ODNR director Sean D. Logan, current ODNR Director James Zehringer, and Ohio Inspector General Randell Meyer, Deputy Inspector General Ronald E. Nichols and former Ohio Inspector General Thomas Charles.
The five are asking for a federal jury trial before the U.S. District Court's Southern District of Ohio Court.
Each of the five plaintiffs is seeking $200,000 in judgment plus another $200,000 per plaintiff “…for punitive damages, plus interest, costs, attorney fees and all further relief to which Plaintiffs are entitled.”
This associated legal matter is now threading its way through the courts system.
- By Jeffrey L. Frischkorn