The time for reckoning for police chiefs around the country is upon us. There has been an uptick of news reports about police chiefs engaged in acts that question their integrity to put it mildly. From Florida to the Carolinas and as far west as California chiefs are being taken to task. And it is about time. For a culture of bad apples to persist in a department, the head apple is surely culpable. And culpability cost one Ohio police chief his life.
Kirkersville Police Chief James Hughes Jr. was found deceased at his suburban Columbus home in Reynoldsburg on May 25. His death was initially reported as “mysterious”. Results of the investigation into his death was released Wednesday claiming that the chief died from overdosing on fentanyl stored in the evidence room said Reynoldsburg Police Department Lt. Ron Wright. Wright told the Newark Advocate that Hughes appeared to be getting high off of the fentanyl in the department’s evidence room.
“There was packaging that indicated that he was taking controlled substances from there,” Wright told the Advocate.
Autopsy results released July 13 by the Franklin County Coroner’s Office revealed that the Ohio police chief died of an “acute intoxication by fentanyl.”
Wright added that no one would be charged in his death since he didn’t buy the drugs from anyone but still planned to take the case to the Ohio Attorney General’s Office.
“It’s kind of gone beyond our level,” Wright said. “You’re talking about another agency’s property room. We think the state should probably intervene. There appeared to be some practices happening out there that probably someone from the state AG’s office should probably look into.”
Hughes has been on the job for two months after the previous chief resigned according to the Columbus Dispatch. That chief resigned citing a hostile work environment. Before that, Hughes worked at several different police departments bringing along a troubled past.
The Advocate reports that Hughes was connected to three internal investigations while working for the Fairfield County Sheriff’s Office in 2012 and 2013. One of those cases involved Hughes dating a former inmate after her release from county jail. Hughes received a two-week suspension without pay and was transferred, but kept his job. The police report says Hughes got into an argument with workers at a fast food restaurant over his order and then spat at the drive-thru window.
In June 2013, he was charged with disorderly conduct while intoxicated for an incident that occurred at a fast food restaurant in Whitehall and then reportedly used a racial slur against the employees while authorities investigated the incident, the Advocate said. Hughes said of the fast food workers, “F–k those ignorant n—–s.”
Hughes eventually resigned after being charged with a fourth-degree misdemeanor count of disorderly conduct while intoxicated in Whitehall Mayor’s Court but quickly found a new home with the Village of Brice, where he remained until 2015.
At the time of his hire as the Kirkersville Police Chief, Kirkersville Mayor Terry Ashcraft told reporters that Hughes had a “good” background check before hiring him. According to the mayor, he had received a letter from a Fairfield County Sheriff’s official describing Hughes as a good employee.
That alone is proof of one of two things:
1) the mayor and the hiring authority did not properly review Hughes’ background or,
2) the mayor and the hiring authority did not care about Hughes’ background.
Both cases are appalling to say the least. On one hand you have the mayor and hiring authority gambling with the welfare of the community by not properly vetting the new police chief. On the other hand you have the community’s leaders showing no regard by looking past Hughes’ checkered past and naming him the new police chief. The fact the mayor stuck his neck out and vouched for Hughes’ good background he is responsible for what happened. The mayor was either negligent which alludes to a dereliction of duty or just as corrupt as Hughes.
All drug cases involving the Ohio chief should be reviewed and thrown out. A user is in no position to investigate and arrest and prosecute another user. Plain and simple these cops live by the saying, “do as I say, not as I do.”
Several news outlets have gone out of their way to include Hughes’ salary as the Kirkersville Police Chief. While his salary is significantly lower than most at $14 an hour for a 20-hour-week, it does not excuse or diminish his actions and the tarnishing of his position. Hughes reportedly asked the mayor before his death to increase his hours to 32 hours to meet the position’s demands but that has no correlation with the fact the chief was on fentanyl and was using evidence already in lock up to get high.