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Termination due to tarnishing

Register • Apr 29, 2014 at 8:43 AM

"As a result of an administrative investigation, it was found you brought discredit to the (Patrol) when indicted on a felony charge of disseminating matter harmful to a juvenile," John Born, director of the Ohio Department of Public Safety, wrote to Patrol Sgt. Ricky Vitte Jr. on April 21. 

The note was included in a packet of internal documents the Highway Patrol released Monday in response to a public records request.  

"In the months leading up to the indictment, media outlets in and outside Ohio have reported on the allegations related to the indictment," the note stated. 

The Patrol's internal investigation did not address the specific allegation a 17-year-old boy made last year that Vitte had twice showed the boy pornography and masturbated with him when the boy was 12. 

The Patrol refused to conduct an administrative investigation in January after Sandusky County prosecutor Tom Stierwalt dropped an investigation into the allegations and declined to pursue charges. Stierwalt reasoned it would be difficult to convict Vitte because the Patrol sergeant could argue he was teaching the boy to masturbate. 

Born refused to respond to requests from the Register about the Patrol's personnel practices after a Patrol employee initially said the agency would conduct an investigation, but later backtracked. Born's spokesman said there would be no internal investigation because the local prosecutor did not charge Vitte after investigating the allegations. 

State director killed sex probe

Stierwalt never expanded or provided any clarification of the reason he provided the Register for not charging Vitte — that he could argue he was teaching the boy to masturbate — but he did expand his comments during the Patrol's internal investigation. 

Hello, Tom? Is that you? Click here to listen to the call (includes objectionable language) with Stierwalt talking to a person he thought was Vitte. 

On Feb. 5, Stierwalt told the Patrol he opted against pursuing charges because there had been "no touching in the masturbation incident" between Vitte and the boy. He also said he did not consider Vitte's efforts to contact his ex-wife to be a violation of a civil protection order, and that it was not a felony when Vitte fled a stop by Sandusky County sheriff's deputies who had arranged to interview Vitte about the allegations. 

Stierwalt told the Patrol investigators during that initial interview he had sought a second opinion from attorneys in the Lucas County prosecutor's office and was awaiting a reply from them. 

About a week later, Stierwalt told the Patrol's investigators he was awaiting a decision from the Lucas County sex crimes unit "to determine if the video that Vitte showed (the boy) could be considered 'disseminating matter harmful to a juvenile.'"

The Lucas County prosecutor's office told Stierwalt it "recommended that no charges be filed against Vitte," according to the Patrol's internal report, and the only thing left for Stierwalt to consider "was taking the case before a grand jury."

Stierwalt met with the boy nearly a month after the Patrol began its internal investigation and told the Patrol's investigator "he found his story to be credible." He told the investigator he "was leaving the decision whether to move forward with prosecution up to the boy," the Patrol's report states. 

"Stierwalt said he gave the boy a week to render a decision as to whether he wanted to proceed with prosecution," the report states. "He said if the boy wants to proceed, he will take it before the next grand jury and if not he will probably drop it."

Stierwalt presented information to a grand jury at the start of April and Vitte was indicted on two counts of disseminating matter harmful to a juvenile.

The Patrol's investigation focussed on whether Vitte had discredited the Patrol. 

The investigator, Lt. K.E. Ward, the Patrol's Administrative Investigation Unit commander, interviewed Vitte's commander at the Patrol's Toledo post, Lt. William Bowers. 

"I asked Bowers if he believed the situation with Vitte had brought discredit to the Division and he said 'yes,'" Ward's report states. "Bowers said that since the story has been in the media the Post has received several phone calls making derogatory comments about the Patrol." 

Vitte's indictment and the subsequent charges "threw the Post into turmoil," Bowers told Ward. 

Ward also said he interviewed the Findlay District commander, Gary Allen, who told him "Vitte's situation has had a negative impact."

Allen told Ward "that people in the district are more concerned with what's going on with Vitte than they were doing their jobs."

"Allen stated that this has made the Highway Patrol look bad and it's embarrassing," the report stated.

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