LOGAN — What is the role of a prosecutor? The prosecutor has three main tasks — investigate crimes; decide whether or not to start legal proceedings; and to appear in court.
The Hocking County Prosecutor’s website states — The Hocking County Prosecutor’s Office prosecutes felony and misdemeanor crimes within the county but also provides a variety of other services including:
• Advise law enforcement on what is needed to successfully prosecute a case under Ohio law.
• Counsel county officials and township trustees on contracts, laws, etc.
• Assist the Hocking County Treasurer in the prosecution and collection of real estate tax foreclosures and bankruptcies.
• Assist local businesses pursue criminal charges against those who pass bad checks.
• Represent South Central Job and Family Services with child support enforcement, abuse, neglect and dependency cases.
• Assist in the collection of lodging tax.
While this may be true that the prosecutor’s office performs these services, there are still many unanswered questions that people in the community are curious about, and the newspaper went searching for answers.
For example, the first service listed above is “advise law enforcement” — that may be one of the services listed but according to a public records request by The Logan Daily News — there were 298 felony cases presented to the Hocking County Prosecutor’s Office last year from the Hocking County Sheriff’s Office. Out of those 298 cases the prosecutor carried through with 165 of them.
Yes, approximately 45 percent of those cases have not been charged or indicted as of this date — that’s 133 cases that’s still sitting on a desk or in a file cabinet somewhere in the prosecutor’s office.
Other cases presented by the Sheriff’s Office over the past few years seem to have gone by the wayside or were pled down to a lesser charge.
Some of the most memorable cases taken to court are the following:
In 2017, Thomas Devaul, a midway worker at the Hocking County Fair from Canastotal, New York, was arrested after inappropriately touching a juvenile female. Devaul was a registered sex offender in the State of New York, and failed to register in Hocking County upon his arrival. He was convicted of rape in New York, a first-degree felony — the victims were nine and 11 at the time.
He was indicted by Hocking County Grand Jury in September 2017 for failure to comply with duty to register and registration requirements, a first-degree felony; and sexual imposition, a first-degree misdemeanor.
If convicted, he could have spent 11 years in prison for the first-degree felony; however, he was offered a plea agreement and pled to a fifth-degree charge and was sent to SEPTA — a known rapist was basically let go with a slap on the wrist.
Another case in 2017 — John Modie — escaped from the Hocking Correctional Institution, was captured and stood trial for the escape. However, based on an error that the Prosecutor’s Office was unable to correct in court, the convicted murderer was acquitted of a felony escape charge.
Modie was acquitted of the felony charge due to the Prosecutor’s Office not being able to establish the venue of the crime — Hocking Correctional Institution. Although he was acquitted of the escape charge, he remains incarcerated in a prison for an unrelated murder conviction on which he received an 18-to-life prison sentence for the death of Ucciannia Ortiz in Cuyahoga County.
David Weber was charged and indicted in April 2018 of rape, a first-degree felony; and gross sexual imposition, a third-degree felony. A plea agreement was put in place and the rape charge was dismissed, but the gross sexual imposition charge remained. He was sentenced to four years in prison with the possibility of judicial release after 18 months. He was also court ordered to register as a Tier II sex offender/child victim offender.
He was released recently but failed to register with Hocking County Sheriff’s Office. Weber was arrested and faced the judge for failure to register. He was released on probation.
These are just a few of the cases that have come before the court, and have either been pled down to a lesser charge or acquitted.
In a recent Hocking County Commissioners meeting, David Harris complained about Fickel and the wrongdoings of his office. His concern is with a former victim’s advocate, who he claims is rude and threatens not only those seeking help but also others in the office.
The victim’s advocate in question, Brenda (Riddlebarger) Arthur, was dismissed from her duties during the investigation of a murder-suicide incident that occurred in December involving Harris’ cousin.
When questioned in December on the murder, Prosecutor Fickel told The Logan Daily News that his office followed all procedures and there were no violations of Marsey’s Law by anyone in his office; however, he sent two employees home that week stating it was for their own benefit; one of those employees was Arthur.
Both employees were eventually brought back to work; however, the victim’s advocate, Arthur, moved into a new position within the office. For many in the community, this did not sit well.
Harris has continuously made it his mission to attend the Commissioner meetings hoping to come to some sort of resolve to remove Arthur from the office and to make Fickel accountable for his actions.
Standing in front of the Commissioners, Harris presented an email that was sent to the Prosecutor from an employee stating that Arthur had allegedly told someone that she was “coming after” this particular employee. The employee took it as a threat.
The email was sent to Fickel on Jan. 6. Fickel has yet to reply to the employee’s complaint of being threatened.
The second item on the list is counsel county officials and township trustees. According to a recent meeting with the Hocking County Commissioners, Perry Township Trustees Mike Smith and John Cavinee have reached out to the Prosecutor on several occasions regarding an incident with another trustee. However, Fickel told them he had to talk to Hocking County Auditor Ken Wilson before making any decision on whether there was any wrongdoing. Wilson denies that the meeting ever took place.
After months of waiting for Fickel to make contact with the trustees, they decided to take matters into their own hands and reached out to the Commissioners. According to the two trustees, William Gooley used the township’s accounts to purchase items for his own personal use, which in turn Gooley received government discounts and did not pay any taxes on the items. The matter is now in the Ohio State Attorney General’s hands for review.
How many times has Hocking County Prosecutor Benjamin Fickel appeared in court? Numerous times. However, how many cases has Fickel tried in court, himself? According to information received in a public records request by The Logan Daily News via a phone conversation — none.
The answer the newspaper was given is — Fickel takes the cases to grand jury to be indicted and then turns the cases over to his assistant prosecutors — Jorden Meadows and Colleen Williams.
There are many other questions the community has asked of the newspaper as well. One being, how many cases have been dismissed in court by the Prosecutor’s Office?
According to the public record’s request from The Logan Daily News to the Hocking County Municipal Court, there have been over 1,000 cases dismissed — 1,058 to be exact. This figure is only for Hocking County Municipal Court.
The Logan Daily News reached out to Fickel to once again respond to six questions. However, he did not respond.
The email read as follows:
I’m going to give you an opportunity to respond to some complaints that have been coming into the office and some public records requests that I’ve asked for.
1) How many criminal cases have you tried since you’ve been in office in Common Pleas and Municipal Court? This means you and NOT Colleen and Jorden. The number I got from the public records request is NONE.....if this is true, why?
2) Why were there 298 felony cases brought to you from HCSO and 133 of them still have nothing done? They have not been charged or indicted....
3) Why were there over 1,000 cases in Municipal Court DISMISSED?
4) Why did David Weber only get probation after he failed to register....he raped a four-year-old.....do you not think that he should have gone back to prison? Why?
5) Most are really upset that Brenda is still there....why? I know she’s still working but in a different capacity....also I got word from someone that you told the people from ODVN that Brenda was no longer working for you.
I’m trying to make this as fair as possible for a story so I need your input. This is not against you personally. People are just upset that you are not doing your job that the community elected you for.....
Friday, shortly after noon, Fickel responded to my email:
“The allegations you are making do not appear to be anywhere close to accurate. Would you please send me the documents to which you refer so that I can properly respond?”
The questions are not allegations, they are questions that many have voiced their concerns over to the newspaper.
The newspaper will continue to seek answers to all questions for the community that elected Fickel in 2016.
Next week, we will approach other cases and other avenues to find the answers.