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No second opinion

Register • May 3, 2014 at 8:36 AM

Sandusky County prosecutor Tom Stierwalt says he did it; the Lucas County prosecutor office says he didn’t. 

Stierwalt told Ohio State Highway Patrol Lt. K.E. Ward in February that he sent the Lucas County prosecutor’s office a request for a “second opinion” on whether Patrol Sgt. Ricky Vitte should be charged with a crime after allegations surfaced last year he showed porn to a 12-year-old boy and masturbated with him on two occasions. 

He told Ward he sent Lucas County a copy of the investigation and the video Vitte allegedly showed the boy. Stierwalt later told Ward they said Vitte should not be charged. 

But Lucas County has no record Stierwalt ever contacted the office, and it never offered any recommendation on the Vitte investigation. 

“There are no documents from or to Sandusky County Prosecutor Tom Stierwalt or anyone else from his office relating to the prosecution of (Vitte),” assistant Lucas County prosecutor Karlene Henderson told the Register. 

Stierwalt did not respond to a request Friday seeking clarification of the conflicting information. 

In January, Stierwalt dropped the investigation of Vitte, saying he didn’t believe he could get a conviction because Vitte could argue he was teaching the boy to masturbate. The decision created a firestorm of criticism after the Register first reported the information, and Stierwalt refused to clarify or expand his explanation why he dropped the investigation. 

But Stierwalt also told Ward he decided to leave it up to the alleged victim, who is now 18, whether he should take evidence to a grand jury despite the recommendation he said he got from from Lucas County that no charges be filed. Stierwalt said he gave the victim a week to “render a decision,” according to Ward’s report. 

The victim, who was 12 when the alleged incidents occurred, told Stierwalt he had concerns for other children and about Vitte’s violent temper, according to reports, and he wanted to go forward. 

Vitte was indicted April 2 on two charges of disseminating matter harmful to a juvenile.

The Patrol fired Vitte three weeks later, at the conclusion of Ward’s investigation, for acts “unbecoming” an officer and for making the Patrol look bad.

The termination was an about-face. 

In January, the Patrol did not plan to take any action concerning the boy’s complaint, returning his service weapon to him and restoring Vitte to full-duty when Stierwalt dropped the local investigation.

Dean Henry, a Tiffin defense attorney who also works as a special prosecutor in Stierwalt’s office, told the Register in January that Vitte denied all the allegations and is completely innocent. Henry represented Vitte in a past incident when Vitte was charged with domestic violence.

Henry also said he was representing Vitte this time and that he’d talked with Stierwalt about the investigation before Stierwalt closed it down.

The only public comments Stierwalt made about his earlier decision to drop the investigation were during a phone call an unknown person made to him Jan. 23.

“You’re not pressing charges, right?” the caller, who was impersonating Vitte, asked Stierwalt.

“Didn’t seem like there was an appropriate charge, that’s right,” Stierwalt replied.

Hello, Tom? Is that you? (recorded call includes objectionable language)

The recorded conversation was widely distributed on the Internet and their conversation suggests Vitte and Stierwalt might be familiar and friendly with each other. Stierwalt believed the caller was Vitte, and the two commiserated about the fallout after the Register reported the Vitte allegations. Stierwalt said he’d gotten fierce feedback from the community criticizing his decision.

“I’ve been called a FOB, son of (expletive), (expletive), (expletive),” Stierwalt said. “I get emails and I get voicemails for that kind of stuff. I’m a little tired of it, too.”

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