The Ohio Department of Public Safety muddied the waters again last week attempting to clarify previous statements about how the state Highway Patrol responded to allegations a Patrol officer masturbated with a preteen boy.
Department spokesman Joseph Andrews said Thursday the Patrol won't look further into Sgt. Rick Vitte Jr.'s personal life unless new information comes to light. The Patrol will rely on Sandusky County Prosecutor Tom Stierwalt's decision not to pursue charges, he said.
There are no concrete disciplinary rules that dictate what the Patrol must do when an employee is accused of a crime but never charged with it. Decisions whether to pursue an internal investigation are made on a case-by-case basis, Andrews said.
But he later back-pedaled.
“Look, if there's no charges filed, there's nothing that we can do,” Andrews said.
Vitte's attorney told the Register in January his client was absolutely innocent of the charges and completely denies the allegations. But neither Sandusky County Prosecutor Tom Stierwalt nor the Patrol will say whether Vitte was cleared during the investigation.
Andrews refused to answer the question, instead he repeatedly explained that charges weren't filed.
A teenage boy told Erie County child welfare caseworkers late last year that Vitte showed him pornography and masturbated with him on two occasions five years ago. The allegations were referred to the Sandusky County Sheriff's Office for a criminal investigation.
Sheriff's detective Sean O'Connell never interviewed Vitte when he investigated and Stierwalt later declined bringing it before a grand jury, mainly, he said, because he might not be able to convict Vitte because the Patrol officer could argue he was teaching the boy to masturbate.
Stierwalt only considered charging Vitte with disseminating matter harmful to juveniles; he did not consider other charges.
It's not clear whether the Patrol ever asked Vitte about the allegations, either, and Andrews said he would seek to determine that but later did not respond to inquiries from the Register.
The public records related to Stierwalt's decision give no indication whether they sought to determine if what the boy alleged occurred actually did occur, and whether Vitte was cleared.
Hello, is this Tom? (Recorded phone call includes objectionable language. Listen at your own discretion.)
It's not clear how Vitte learned an investigation was started, just before the interview with O'Connell was to have occurred.
His wife called O'Connell, who was with the caseworker, and they instead went to Vitte's home and parked nearby anticipating his arrival. Vitte, who was driving a state police cruiser, saw the sheriff's deputy cruiser and pulled away before turning into the driveway of his home, leading a chase.
Andrews said the Patrol was unconcerned Vitte sped away from a stop driving a state police cruiser.
“The allegation of a related (car) chase was not substantiated," he said. "A total time of 19 seconds and an approximate distance of less than one mile elapsed from the activation of the deputy's cruiser lights until Sgt. Vitte stopped.”
O'Connell explicitly states in his report, however, that Vitte used his Patrol cruiser to flee from law enforcement.
Andrews declined to comment how long a car chase must last before it would reach the level where charges would be considered, or require disciplinary action by the Patrol.
“He wasn't charged with anything,” he said.
When the Register talked with Andrews on Thursday, a second voice could be heard coaching him through some of the answers he provided to the questions he was asked. Andrews did not respond when asked later who that person was.
Department of Public Safety Director John Born, meanwhile, has refused to respond the Register's request for an interview.
Note: This post has been modified to reflect the call was made to O'Connell after Vitte left work early.