In an about-face, the Ohio State Highway Patrol said Tuesday it will not investigate allegations Trooper Ricky Vitte Jr. masturbated with a pre-teen boy.
John Born, director of the Ohio Department of Public Safety, which oversees the Highway Patrol, dodged questions about the Patrol's standards and practices vetting un-proved allegations of domestic violence, child abuse, sexual misconduct and other alleged misdeeds by troopers.
Born instructed a spokesman to respond to the Register's inquiry. The responses from the department's communications director, Joseph L. Andrews, however, were initially murky, and later shifted.
“It would be inappropriate for the Department of Public Safety to respond further until the Highway Patrol completes its look into the matter,” Andrews wrote in reply to the Register on Monday.
But a day later, on Tuesday, he shifted gears and stated the Patrol does not know anything about the allegations against Vitte.
"No complaint or allegation of misconduct concerning Trooper Vitte has been received by the Ohio State Highway Patrol," Andrews said. "No criminal charges have been filed in the case that precipitated the placement of Trooper Vitte on administrative duty."
Vitte was briefly sidelined and put on administrative duty after the allegations against him were made in November.
The Patrols "is bound by Ohio law, policy and procedure, work rules and contractual obligations," Andrews wrote.
In a subsequent telephone call later on Tuesday seeking clarification, Andrews declined to discuss those rules or the Patrol's practices and standards when reviewing criminal allegations against officers that don't result in criminal charges.
He also said comments from Patrol spokeswoman Lt. Anne Ralston last week and earlier this month stating the Vitte investigation was being reviewed by the Patrol were incorrect. When asked if the Patrol still intended to conduct an investigation, Andrews said no.
“We have not received anything that would prompt us to do so,” he said.
Late last year, a boy told social workers that Vitte showed him pornography and masturbated with him on two occaisions five years ago, when he was a pre-teen. Sandusky County Prosecutor Tom Stierwalt declined to bring the case before a grand jury — mainly, he said — because Vitte might have argued an affirmative defense that he was teaching the boy how to masturbate.
Stierwalt has refused to clarify or offer further comment about his decision, or provide notes of his conversations with Vitte, or his attorney, Dean Henry, in response to public records requests from the Register. Henry told the Register that Vitte has been falsely accused.
Vitte was never interviewed by the Sandusky County sheriff's detective who conducted the investigation. He was driving a state police cruiser when he fled an initial stop to question him made by a deputy and detetctive Sean O'Connel, and he refused to talk with them after the chase ended.
Andrews said director Born had reviewed the inquiry and questions from the Register but refused to respond to them. Born was appointed director by Gov. John Kasich in July. He previously served as superintendent of the Ohio State Highway Patrol.
Other recent decisions involving Highway Patrol personnel have focussed attention on the agency's practices and standards.
Trooper Shane Johnson, 43, who has has been on paid sick leave from the Toledo post since August, was arraigned in December on a first-degree misdemeanor domestic violence charge. Patrol Sgt. Eric Gonzalez was demoted last year and transferred to the Fremont Highway Patrol post after he allegedly gave the Perrysburg Police wrong information in filing a report about alleged child abuse.
When asked if it was the Patrol's practice to not review allegations beyond local criminal investigations, Andrews said “when warranted, they would.”
Andrews declined to discuss whether allegations a trooper masturbated with a child would warrant a further look, or whether domestic violence or child abuse would warrant a review by the Patrol.
“The answer that I gave you is the answer of the Ohio Department of Public Safety. That's all I'm going to say,” Andrews said, insisting it was a responsive reply before abruptly ending the conversation by hanging up the phone.