A total of at least 10 members of the Pike County Democratic Central Committee on Thursday chose retired Piketon Police Chief Jim Nelson, 71, to temporarily replace Pike County Sheriff Charles Reader who agreed last month to a paid suspension.
Reader, 45, was indicted on eight felony and eight misdemeanor counts ranging from theft in office to tampering with evidence. On July 2, he pleaded not guilty to all charges in the Pike County Court of Common Pleas.
The charges stem from an investigation undertaken by the office of state Auditor Keith Faber following an anonymous complaint alleging Reader is guilty of various types of misconduct, perhaps 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 against Reader, filed a motion with the Ohio Supreme Court asking for them to suspend Reader in accordance with Ohio law.
As Reader is a Democrat, the task of replacing him fell to the Pike County Democratic Central Committee. Committee Chairman and Pee Pee Township Trustee David DeWitt said 18 committee members ultimately chose from among four candidates. The winning candidate needed to gain the votes of 50 percent plus one of the committee members who met in executive session to decide the matter on Thursday.
Chief Deputy Bob Barbee is, for now, serving as temporary head of the department and at least initially threw his name into the hat for permanent appointment. However, Barbee is a Republican and that presumably is why he withdrew from contention. DeWitt said Nelson needs to complete some paperwork to be sent to Columbus confirming his appointment as Pike County Sheriff. DeWitt added he did not expect the process to take long and presumes officials will swear Nelson in by the middle of this week.
Why Nelson? DeWitt said committee members were taken with his experience.
“His background was the most impressive,” DeWitt said.
DeWitt admitted to concerns regarding Nelson’s age. However, he also noted as chairman he had no vote on the new sheriff and added the candidate’s age obviously was not the chief concern of a committee majority.
Currently at home on a signature bond, Reader returns to court for his first pretrial hearing Aug. 12. If he is ultimately found not guilty, he could conceivably return to duty.
Reader first took office in 2016. DeWitt stated whoever wants to continue as sheriff, even if it is Reader, that person needs to run publicly for office next year. DeWitt said there will be a primary next year with a general election for sheriff in November. He added Nelson stated he intends to run for the permanent position.
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 following Reader’s voluntary acceptance of suspension. “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. The Daily Times reported that statement, but asked for clarification.Faber spokesperson Allie Dumski said that initial statement was a mistake. Faber’s office began its investigation in November following the anonymous complaint against Reader and a subsequent request by Pike County Prosecutor Rob Junk for appointment of a special prosecutor to investigate the complaint which is exactly what 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 and will preside over his case going forward.
Reach Tom Corrigan at (740) 370- 0715. © 2019 Portsmouth Daily Times, all rights reserved.