Following the voluntary acceptance of a suspension by Pike County Sheriff Charles Reader on Wednesday, the Pike County Democratic Central Committee planned to meet Thursday evening to name an interim sheriff.
In the meantime, Chief Deputy Bob Barbee will serve as head of the department, but according to a release from the Pike County Board of Commissioners, he will retain the title of chief deputy until the Democrats appoint an interim replacement.
Commissioners noted in accordance with Ohio law, local Democrats cannot name a replacement within a minimum of five days, but not more than a maximum of 45 days, of the effective date of Reader’s suspension.
At his arraignment in the Pike County Court of Common Pleas on July 2, Reader pleaded not guilty to eight misdemeanor and eight felony charges ranging from theft in office to tampering with evidence. The charges stem from an investigation undertaken by the office of state Auditor Keith Faber following an anonymous complaint alleging Reader was guilty of various types of misconduct, most notably allegedly stealing money from drug busts.
On the day of Reader’s arraignment, both Faber and Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost called for Reader’s suspension. Faber’s office, which is prosecuting the case, filed a motion with the Ohio Supreme Court asking for them to suspend Reader in accordance with Ohio law.
“Sheriff Reader violated the public’s trust when he used his office to benefit himself rather than the public,” Yost said in a news release after Reader’s arraignment. “Reader has been credibly accused and indicted. Under the circumstances, I don’t see how he can be an effective law enforcement officer.”
Some media outlets reported the Ohio Supreme Court suspended Reader, but the law specifically allows for elected officials to voluntarily step down before the court takes action on their requested suspension. According to Faber’s office, that is what happened in this instance.
“Charles Reader has chosen to accept the suspension from office while the criminal case pending against him proceeds,” Faber said in a brief statement Thursday. “His decision enables the community to maintain confidence in the sheriff’s office as the legal process continues.”
An earlier statement from Faber’s office stated the investigation into the sheriff’s conduct began over a year prior to his indictment late last month. AIM Media Midwest reported that statement, but asked for clarification. Faber spokesperson Allie Dumski said that initial comment was a mistake. Faber’s office began its investigation in November following the anonymous complaint against Reader and subsequent request by Pike County Prosecutor Rob Junk for appointment of a special prosecutor to investigate the complaint, which happened upon approval of Pike County Common Pleas Judge Randy Deering.
Deering recused himself from any hearings in Reader’s case and visiting Judge Chris Martin presided over the suspended sheriff’s arraignment. Released on a signature bond following his arraignment, Reader is expected back in court for his first pretrial hearing Aug. 12.
Reader’s office was using a private public relations firm to comment on sheriff’s office activities, including the recent criminal charges. On Thursday, spokesman Derek Myers stated he no longer worked for Reader or the sheriff’s office, and deferred questions to that department. The sheriff’s office did not return a voicemail request for comment.
After the arraignment, Myers blasted both Faber and Yost for calling for Reader’s suspension.
“The sheriff has built his life on the justice system and he deserves due process,” Meyers said. “Any proclaimed steward of justice who does not believe in our country’s core belief of innocence until proven guilty should not be an office holder themselves. If Auditor Faber doesn’t agree with our democracy and the presumption of innocence, perhaps he should resign and defect to a country more aligned with his beliefs.”
Myers further argued it was inappropriate for Yost to take any stand in the case.
“He (Yost) left the auditor’s office for the Attorney General seat. Perhaps his time would be better suited asking why the FBI may be probing his office.”
Yost’s office reported the Attorney General filed a brief supporting Faber’s office in calling for Reader’s suspension. Yost also stated Reader’s legal difficulties will have no effect on the ongoing prosecution in the Rhoden murder trials now underway in Pike County.
Six members of the Wagner family stand accused, in one way or another, in connection with the murders of eight members of the Rhoden family in 2016.
“This will have no impact on the Wagner capital murder cases as Sheriff Reader was not the primary witness for any issue of fact or law,” Yost said. “Ohio sheriffs act with integrity and honor, and this rare occurrence does not reflect the excellent work they do daily throughout their counties.”
Reach Tom Corrigan at 740-370-0715.