Noble County gripes aired

CALDWELL –A meeting of the Noble County Commissioners held Monday afternoon began with criticism of county sheriff Robert Pickenpaugh and broadened into a general discussion about the impact of drugs on the youth of the county.

Roger Presnell, who said he had worked as a deputy for the department before retiring after 20 years in 2003 because he was affected by post-traumatic stress disorder said he had come to address the commissioners about his concerns regarding Pickenpaugh and the sheriff’s office in general. Some centered on his view that the sheriff’s office hasn’t been aggressive enough in making drug related arrests.

Another resident, Brandon Wuletich, launched into a detailed and bitter renunciation of the sheriff, saying that had attempted to have his teenage son charged for drug use and other illegal behavior but the deputies had refused to deal with his complaints.

Wuletich, who said he has had his own brushes with the law, added that when his son had threatened him with a gun, the deputies who responded declined to act on his complaint.

“I’m a 36-year-old father of three, I’ve lived here all my life, and I’m pro-police,” he told the commissioners. “But here, they walk all over your rights, they don’t follow the law. I’m here for some answers. I don’t claim to be a saint, I just want some accountability.”

Wuletich, who spoke for 45 minutes, recited numerous incidents going back more than a year in which he felt aggrieved by the sheriff’s office.

“On Jan. 3, I was arrested for not letting deputies into my house without a warrant. I was taken here (the courthouse) and released because they couldn’t hold me,” he said. “Are the deputies here aware of people’s civil rights?”

Wuletich was most incensed by what he views as the department’s failure to arrest his son, which he said might have instilled some accountability into him. When he turns 18, Wuletich said, his first encounter with accountability will probably be 20 years in prison.

“I tried to have my son charged several times on everything from drugs to pulling a gun on me, but nothing’s been done,” he said. “That’s because I’m a nobody. If I tried to discipline him, they’d arrest me.”

The commission meeting room was full, with 13 people having come to express concerns of one type or another, but nearly all spoke about their experiences with youth and drugs, neighbors and drugs or crime and drugs.

A 2017 survey by the Noble County Health Department, with 520 responses from its population of about 14,000, showed drug and alcohol abuse as the primary health problem identified by 48.7 percent of the respondents, nearly double the number who identified cancer as the No. 1 concern. One out of every five professed to know someone with a heroin, meth or prescription pain medication abuse or addiction problem, and for the respondents ages 18-34, that ratio was one out of three.

Misty Wells, the workforce development supervisor for Ohio Job and Family Services in Noble County, stood and spoke to the entire room, saying her office is trying to manage an enormous workload with two caseworkers and inviting anyone who cared about the county’s children to step up and help.

“We have more money for these programs than ever … we all here have a passion for Noble County, and we can use your help,” she said. “I feel bad for the kids who don’t have anyone to hold them accountable. We need mentors.”

Commissioner Ty Moore noted that a long-anticipated recreational facility, a public swimming pool at the fairgrounds, will open soon and expressed high expectations for it.

“At that pool, we’ll get role models as lifeguards,” he said. “I can’t save a 54-year-old man,but we might be able to save a 10-year-old.”

“We’ve talked about drugs for an hour and 20 minutes,” Moore said. “We’ve got to break the cycle, offer role models. When that pool opens, at least it will give our children something to do. What’s happening now is terrible, but we’re starting to turn it around, we’re trying to do something.”

Veronica Bender, who will manage the pool when it opens later this month, said it will be an option for children who don’t have many.

“It will give kids an opportunity to swim, but it’s also a safe place to go, six or seven hours a day, seven days a week,” she said. “It’s something that needed to be done.”

Presnell took the floor again after the pool discussion, saying that as a former law enforcement officer he watches the community but is discouraged by the response from Pickenpaugh to information he provides the sheriff.

“These guys don’t know what the hell they’re doing. When I have cases, I know where to get the job done. I go straight to (county prosecuting attorney) Kelly Riddle. There’s not a lot being brought to her by the sheriff,” he said.

Pickenpaugh had been invited to the meeting, the commissioners acknowledged, but hadn’t accepted. At one point during the meeting, Pickenpaugh stood briefly outside the door of the room but walked away. Presnell a few minutes later attempted to locate him but was unable to find him in the building.

An attempt to contact Pickenpaugh after the meeting at the sheriff’s office was unsuccessful, and a message was left for him.