Washington County Sheriff Larry Mincks will not face opposition in the March 6 primary, but he will face a challenge on the November ballot by a former deputy who claims the department needs restructured and refocused.
Chris Forshey, 55, of 201 Colegate Drive, Marietta, was certified this week by the Washington County Board of Elections to run as an Independent candidate for sheriff. Since winning the Republican primary in 2004, it is the first time Mincks has been challenged for the post, a position he has held for two terms.
Forshey last served as chief of the Pataskala Police Department in central Ohio, a position he held for nine years. He took an early retirement from the department in January 2010 and returned to Marietta, his hometown.
Mincks, left, and Forshey
"As I returned to Washington County I was disappointed in a lot of things, including the direction of the sheriff's office," Forshey said.
Forshey, who previously worked for the Washington County Sheriff's Office, pointed to the loss of the sheriff's office aviation unit in July 2010, what he considers too much attention on drug cases and questionable hiring practices and conduct by officers.
Some of the concerns are further detailed on an Internet site Forshey has created and advertises on a sign outside his home: www.thetruthaboutwcso.us.
Address: 407 Strecker Lane, Marietta.
Education: Bachelor's degree in Accounting from Marietta College; Ohio Peace Officer Training Academy; Ohio State Highway Patrol Academy; Federal Law Enforcement Training Center.
Experience: Washington County Sheriff, 2005 to present; Washington County Sheriff's Office (detective and Chief Deputy), 1999-2005; IRS criminal investigation special agent, 1988-1999; Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force Coordinator, 1983-1988; IRS criminal investigation special agent, 1975-1983; Ohio State Highway Patrol, 1961-1975; U.S. Air Force intelligence analyst, 1965.
Address: 201 Colegate Drive, Marietta.
Education: Marietta High School, 1974; Ohio Peace Officer Training Academy; Completed one year at Marietta College; West Virginia State Police Academy.
Experience: Marietta Police Department (dispatcher and patrolman), 1978-1981; Washington County Sheriff's Office (deputy and shift supervisor), 1981-1984; Parkersburg Police Department (patrolman and detective), 1984-1989; Washington County Sheriff's Office (detective bureau supervisor, criminal division commander), 1989-2001; Chief of Pataskala Police Department, 2001 through January 2010.
"The website shows the truth," he said. "Sometimes we read things in the newspaper and the information provided there isn't right...It isn't actually the result of the reporter, but the information or facts are skewed...I think the public has the right to know."
Forshey said the site also attempts to show that the department has questionable hiring practices. He claims the department hires individuals who have abused drugs or have criminal backgrounds.
"The public has a right to know if the deputies that serve them have proper credentials or backgrounds," he said.
Mincks said the website is little more than a "gossip column" that may or may not contain correct information. Many of the postings on the site include documents obtained through public records requests from the sheriff's office.
"A record displayed on its own without the appropriate associated records is not reflective of the entire situation," Mincks said. "Documents contained in pubic records do not normally reflect the conversations prior to, during or after a particular document is generated. Oftentimes a decision is made, which is reflected in a public record that is more strategic in the long run or reflects other information not known to the requester."
Mincks did acknowledge some hires may have experimented with narcotics at some point prior to their hiring.
"We conduct background investigations and look at each person and their circumstances individually," he said. "I feel there are good, qualified people who can perform well for us who may have experimented briefly in their youth with some controlled substances...I'm more interested in who these people are today."
Forshey said if he was elected the department would be reorganized with fewer supervisors and a "back to basics" approach to law enforcement. He said there is too much emphasis on drug enforcement.
"The guy who had his mailbox bashed by some juveniles expects the same effort (that is) put into drug trade," Forshey said.
Mincks acknowledged his department puts a lot of emphasis on drug enforcement.
"We are committed to providing 24-7 response to all calls for service and will continue to investigate those individuals responsible for perpetrating crimes against our citizens," he said. "But you'll find that most of our crimes, especially property crimes, is related to the local drug trade. We can't afford to back down on drug investigations or to go back to the way it was in the 1990s when we had a sheriff, captain and 10 to 15 deputies."
The department's criminal division currently has 20 road deputies, four major crimes investigators and three detectives. The criminal division operates on a $3.8 million budget, something Mincks said he would be concerned about if Forshey would take control of the office.
Mincks pointed out that Forshey has filed for personal bankruptcy at least twice, including as recently as within the past few years.
"During my tenure as sheriff, our economy has fluctuated greatly at times; however, through cooperation between employees, we have maintained financial stability," he said. "We have to balance our budget and do not have the option like private individuals and companies of declaring bankruptcy."
Forshey acknowledged his financial problems, but said they were tough decisions made with his family's security in mind.
"I've had to make some very tough personal decisions and some at my own sacrifice," he said. "So yes, I have filed Chapter 13, set up a payment plan like most businesses... Then I've had a couple other personal tragedies and made the decision to do what was right and filed. I'm not proud of it, but there was no way around it."
Forshey has also been named in at least three civil suits while in office, including one involving a 1998 shooting death of a Belpre man while Forshey was with the sheriff's office.
In the 1998 case, officers obtained a "no-knock" warrant based on information from an informant. Officers went to the home looking for Albert Bonar, whom they suspected of possessing stolen weapons and a large amount of marijuana.
Officers claimed the man's father, Delbert Bonar, 57, was home instead and grabbed a shotgun as officers forced their way into the residence. Sheriff's Sgt. William Wilson and Forshey shot the man eight times, killing him. A small amount of marijuana was found in the home.
Despite objection from former Sheriff Robert Schlicher and the officers involved in the shooting, the county's insurance group settled a wrongful death lawsuit with the Bonar family, paying $450,000.
This week, Forshey maintained no wrongdoing in the Bonar case, or another case where a man charged by Forshey had faced the death penalty for a murder that prosecutors later determined was committed by someone else. That suit sought $3 million but was settled and the award has been sealed.
"(As for the Bonar case), any shooting is unfortunate, but a grand jury cleared me from any wrongdoing," he said. "And when you get into the civil aspect of it... Sometimes you lose control of that. Anyone in business similar to law enforcement knows it is not always about right or wrong, but about dollars and cents. Insurance companies look for the cheapest way out."
Forshey maintains he arrested the right man in the murder case, although prosecutors have said DNA evidence collected proves otherwise and another man has since been convicted of the crime.
Mincks and the sheriff's office is currently named in a pending civil suit for an improper search relating to a July 2009 search of a Poplar Lane home. The couple who had allegedly reported drug activity at a neighbor's residence had deputies arrive at their home and hold them at gunpoint while a search was conducted.
Mincks had previously said he could not comment about the pending case, although he noted this week that there had been no settlements or decisions against the county during his time as sheriff.
Officials in Pataskala did not immediately return a call Friday seeking comment about Forshey's service or retirement there.
According to Columbus Dispatch articles about Forshey's retirement, he offered to leave to save the city money and to help alleviate criticism of his work as chief while a levy campaign was underway. City council had had residents approach them concerned about Forshey's handling of the budget and department and possible corruption.
Forshey said he was not forced out of Pataskala, but noted there were some "political detractors" who were helping to spur the financial problems at the department.