Indicted last week on eight felony and eight misdemeanor counts ranging from theft in office to tampering with evidence, Pike County Sheriff Charles Reader pleaded not guilty on all charges during an arraignment hearing Tuesday morning in front of retired, visiting Judge Chris Martin, who temporarily presided over the Pike County Court of Common Pleas.
Reader was released on a signature bond though Martin insisted he turn over any keys to the county courthouse. Further, Reader is to have no contact with witnesses related to the case or make any comments regarding the case on social media.
Nevertheless, Reader retains his position as Pike County Sheriff, at least for now.
“The sheriff is still the sheriff today,” Derek Myers, a spokesperson for Reader, said.
Describing himself as a former journalist, Myers said he now operates a public relations firm Reader hired late last year. On Tuesday morning, following the brief hearing in front of Martin, Reader very quickly left the building and ignored media requests for comment. Myers said he will provide any public comments on Reader’s behalf.
“We live in a society where one is innocent until proven guilty,” Myers added in an emailed statement. “While there are procedures in place in state law for a charged public official to be temporarily suspended from office pending the resolution of cases, our founding fathers, through constitutional amendments and the Supreme Court, have put in place a fundamental principal for all men and women. It was the state legislature who put a state statute in place for a statewide office holder to politically capitalize by filing a suspension petition without due process to the accused.”
That last line would appear to be a direct reference to Ohio Auditor Keith Faber and state Attorney General Dave Yost, both of whom publicly called for Reader’s suspension.
Faber’s office oversaw what it described as a yearlong investigation into Reader’s alleged activities. Special Prosecutor Robert Smith represented the state at Tuesday’s hearing and was appointed by Faber to oversee an investigation into Reader’s activities.
“The details of this case demonstrate that Charles Reader has abused his position for personal gain and violated his oath to faithfully and lawfully serve the people of Pike County. His suspension is necessary to restore the trust of the public in the members of law enforcement that have sworn to protect and serve them,” Faber said in a press release.
The news release said Faber’s office filed a motion with the Ohio Supreme Court to begin suspension proceedings against Reader in accordance with Ohio Revised Code. Auditor’s office spokesperson Allie Dumski pointed to ORC 31.6 for further details.
“Sheriff Reader violated the public’s trust when he used his office to benefit himself rather than the public,” Yost said in his released statement. “Reader has been credibly accused and indicted. Under these circumstances, I don’t see how he can be an effective law enforcement officer.”
“The sheriff has built his life on the justice system and he deserves due process,” Myers said. “Any proclaimed steward of justice who does not believe in our country’s core belief of innocence until proven guilty should not be an office holder themselves. If Auditor Faber doesn’t agree with our democracy and the presumption of innocence, perhaps he should resign and defect to a country more aligned with his beliefs.”
Myers also had seemingly harsh words for Yost.
“It is not appropriate for Attorney General Yost to opine on any proceedings in this case,” Myers said. “He left the auditor’s office for the Attorney General seat. Perhaps his time would better suited asking why the FBI may be probing his office.”
Yost stated he filed a brief supporting Faber’s office in calling for Reader’s suspension. The brief states, “I support the request to establish a special commission to review whether the sheriff should be suspended from office under R.C. 3.16.”
Reader is known for investigating the slayings of eight people in Pike County from the Rhoden family. He was indicted last Friday on felony charges including evidence-tampering and theft in office after authorities looked into an anonymous complaint that he stole money seized in drug cases.
A grand jury indicted Reader on 16 counts, including misdemeanor conflict-of-interest charges alleging Reader misused his public office to obtain vehicles and sought or accepted thousands of dollars in loans from employees of his office and a county vendor.
Yost previuosly said the sheriff’s indictment won’t impact the pending murder cases against the four suspects who have been charged in the 2016 Rhoden shootings.
Authorities allege George “Billy” Wagner III, his wife, Angela Wagner, and their sons, George Wagner and Edward “Jake” Wagner, planned the attack for months. All four have pleaded not guilty in the potential death-penalty cases.
Investigators have suggested that a custody dispute between Jake Wagner and one of the victims was a possible motive for the slayings, which put residents on edge as rumors circulated that it was a drug hit.
Reach Tom Corrigan at 740-370- 0715.