BLANCHESTER — A man was arrested and charged with kidnapping Wednesday morning several hours after police say his victim was heard crying from a pit dug in a shed at 113 Central Ave. at about 4 a.m. Wednesday.
Dennis Dunn, 45, of the residence, was later arrested at gunpoint.
Police said a neighboring resident, Jennifer Elliott, 30, was reported missing at about 1:30 a.m. by her mother, Gayle Rowe of 107 Central Ave., where Elliott resides.
Rowe told police she had arrived home at around midnight and checked in on her daughter and grandson; her grandson was in bed asleep, but Elliott was inexplicably absent, according to Blanchester Police Chief Scott Reinbolt.
Reinbolt said a police supervisor responded to the scene and two officers checked the neighborhood for Elliott, to no avail.
“At around 4 a.m. police received a phone call from Rowe stating that she heard crying from a shed at the back of the neighbor’s property at 113 Central Ave.,” Reinbolt stated in a press release. “A police officer responded and found Elliott in the shed. She was in a pit dug into the earthen floor of the shed. The pit was approximately 3 ½ feet deep and 2 feet in diameter. The pit was covered with wood and had heavy objects on top to hold the wood in place.
“Elliott appeared to be suffering a seizure. An ambulance responded and transported her to Clinton Memorial Hospital, where she was admitted. The officer observed no obvious signs of physical trauma to Elliott.”
She was later reportedly released from the hospital.
The officer at the scene called for back-up and waited outside the darkened home of Dunn, Reinbolt stated.
“A second Blanchester police officer arrived from home,” Reinbolt said. “Neighbors stated they believed Dunn to possess an assault rifle. Additional Blanchester police personnel were called into work from home, and Blanchester police obtained a search warrant for the residence.”
Major Brett Prickett of the Clinton County Sheriff’s Office responded to lend his assistance.
“Due to the fact that Dunn has a past history of mental illness, and the information indicating he had an assault rifle inside the home, the Warren County Sheriff’s Office was asked to send their Tactical Team to the scene in order to execute the search warrant,” said Reinbolt. “While officers were awaiting the arrival of the Tactical Team, at around 8 a.m. Dunn came to the front door in a nonchalant manner and was placed under arrest by Blanchester Police Sgt. Gary Mowen, who had been posted outside the residence.”
Reinbolt described Dunn’s demeanor as “if he was about to walk his dog.”
Dunn was arrested and charged with kidnapping. He is currently incarcerated at the Clinton County Jail.
BPD: Dunn knew of victim
Reinbolt said that, in October 2016, Elliott reported receiving harassing phone calls and text messages from Dunn, who she and her family have known for some time. He said Elliot declined to participate in prosecution of Dunn in that case.
“I don’t have any idea what he (Dunn) had in store for her,” Reinbolt told the News Journal Wednesday. “But I’m sure it wasn’t pleasant.
“The main thing at this point is to get Jennifer comfortable so that she can talk to somebody and to try and get some details from her,” he said.
Emily Noe, a neighbor, told the News Journal that she couldn’t imagine Dunn doing this. She said she knew him for about five years after meeting through mutual friends.
“He has played with my kids,” said Noe. “I’ve had him over at my house for cookouts. I’ve watched his house for him, watched his dogs for him, I’ve hung out with him for hours on end. Not in a million years could I see him do this.”
She suspects that drugs may have affected his mental state.
History of trouble
Blanchester police have a long history with Dunn, whose mental health was recently evaluated at Clermont Mercy after several recent incidents, according to Reinbolt in an April 6 story in the News Journal.
In early April, Reinbolt said that on four separate occasions on a Saturday evening, Dunn “called police stating that people were trying to break into his house and that he could hear their voices. Each time an officer checked the home and surrounding area and found no one about.”
On the fourth call, received at around 9:45 p.m., the responding officer reported he smelled burnt marijuana inside the home.
“Dunn told the officer that he smokes marijuana to help calm his nerves, then volunteered that he also grows it inside the house for his personal use, asserting his belief that growing marijuana under such circumstances is legal in Ohio,” said Reinbolt. “In a bedroom of the residence, the officer found several small, potted marijuana plants. The plants were seized.”
“Contrary to Dunn’s assertion, growing marijuana, even for personal use, remains illegal in Ohio,” Reinbolt said then.
At around 4 p.m. the next day Dunn called police again complaining that people were trying to break into his house, Reinbolt said, and an officer responded and again found no one.
“At around 11 p.m. Sunday police were called to the residence again, but this time by neighbors who reported Dunn in the yard with a pistol in his hand,” said Reinbolt after the incidents. “The responding officer saw Dunn in the yard with a gun in his hand, but he retreated into the home as the officer pulled up. Dunn then came out the front door, with the gun still in his hand, yelling about people being inside his home.
“The responding officer ordered Dunn to drop the firearm. He did not immediately comply and was given additional orders to do so by the officer. He finally set the gun down on a lawn chair on the porch. A second Blanchester police officer arrived to assist, and Dunn was taken by police car to Clermont Mercy Hospital for a psychiatric evaluation.”
No one was found in his home. “Luckily the situation was brought under control without anyone being hurt,” Reinbolt said, adding that the firearm was seized.
Two days later Dunn, who had been released from the hospital, called police again, this time stating that people were pounding on the window of his home, Reinbolt said, and again police reported no one was found.
Blanchester police later filed charges of disorderly conduct, as well as illegal cultivation of marijuana, against Dunn, alleging that he caused alarm to his neighbors by his conduct on Sunday night and for the seized marijuana plants. He will answer the misdemeanor charges in the Clinton County Municipal Court.
Health system ‘failure’
In Wednesday’s press release, Reinbolt reiterated sentiments he expressed to the News Journal after the early April incidents with Dunn:
“After the incident in early April in which Dunn was disarmed by a police officer, I made comments to the press stating my belief that the mental health system in Ohio is broken. I made those comments based on my experience with that system during my 20-plus year police career, and the fact that Dunn appeared to be in need of inpatient mental health treatment, but was released from the hospital after a short stay.”
“Those comments were not directed toward any mental health agency, but were directed to our elected officials in Columbus who have facilitated the closing of many mental health hospitals in Ohio over the past 20 years in the name of cost reduction.”
“In 1988, there were 3,823 patients in Ohio’s mental health hospitals. By 2011 that number had dwindled to around 1,000 patients. That means that either 3,000 people with chronic mental illness were miraculously cured, or many patients who needed inpatient care were released into our communities.”
“After my comments in the press earlier this month, I met with the director of the Warren-Clinton Counties joint Mental Health District. During that meeting, I learned that the State of Ohio allocates only eight inpatient mental health beds for both counties. The population of both counties is nearly 250,000.”
“I am relieved that we found Ms. Elliott this morning. I am proud of our small staff who came together, from their warm beds at home, to respond to this crime. I am grateful for the assistance provided to us by the Clinton and Warren County Sheriff’s Offices.”
“I was heartbroken when Dunn’s elderly father showed up at the scene this morning to apologize to us for having to deal with this son. I am angry at a state government that places dangerous, mentally ill people into our neighborhoods. I am aghast at the threat this situation poses to all of the Jennifer Elliotts of the world.”