CINCINNATI -- Did Butler County sheriff’s deputies withhold and later tamper with evidence? That question is enough of a concern that federal Judge Susan Dlott allowed a lawsuit against them to move forward.
Deputies Jasen Hatfield and Mike Brockman are named in the suit, as is Sheriff Richard Jones. They moved to have the suit thrown out but Judge Dlott ruled that parts of the suit need to be heard by a jury.
The case stems from a traffic stop on Dec. 12, 2014. Christopher Ebbing called Kevin Gray to drive him home from a bar because he was too drunk to drive.
A short time later Butler County deputy Jasen Hatfield pulled them over. Hatfield claimed that Gray had made an irregular turn on State Route 128 near Hamilton and was later swerving inside his lane of travel.
Deputy Hatfield is the same deputy Butler County Prosecutor Mike Gmoser called “rogue” in a letter to Jones. Gmoser believes Hatfield was adding extra charges against suspects in order to make more overtime for his court appearances.
The night of the traffic stop Hatfield claims he walked up to Gray who had rolled down his window and smelled the strong odor of alcohol coming from the car.
Hatfield says he then noticed Gray’s passenger, Ebbing, not wearing his seatbelt. Hatfield says that Ebbing wouldn’t produce his ID and resisted Hatfield’s attempts to get him out of the car.
Both Gray and Ebbing dispute that account and say that Hatfield went up to the passenger side of the car first and immediately began dragging Ebbing out.
One detail that is clear is that after the initial stop Corporal Mike Brockman arrived on scene. In his efforts to fight an OVI and other charges Gray requested any video recorded that night. According to judge Dlott’s ruling Hatfield, Brockman and the Butler County Sheriff’s Office all denied there was ever a dash cam recording of anything from that night.
Those claims were false.
In fact, it wasn’t until Gray’s trial for OVI that a dash cam tape was produced by Brockman. He had a dash camera and kept the tapes, he testified, in his basement. However, when it was played in court more than six minutes were missing from it.
Gray’s lawsuit alleges ‘Spoliation’ of evidence that the existence of the original dash cam video was not only concealed but also edited. Judge Dlott was “troubled” by the matter.
“If Plaintiff’s version of events is believed, there is evidence that Deputy Hatfield and Corporal Brockman acted with wanton or reckless behavior, as evidenced by Deputy Hatfield’s testimony refuting the existence of a dash camera video prior to the criminal trial in this case. There is evidence of Corporal Brockman’s wanton behavior in failing to disclose the dash camera video and storing it in his basement, and subsequently revealing the existence to Deputy Hatfield prior to alerting the Court.”
What’s more, Judge Dlott believes there may be cause for concern that the tape was potentially altered again after Gray’s OVI trial while it was in the custody of the Butler County Court of Common Pleas.
“Plaintiff contends that the video now in evidence with this Court is different than the video presented at trial. Based on a comparison of the trial transcript to the Court’s own observations, the Court agrees there are seeming differences, enough so that a question of fact exists.”
Additionally, Gray says an earnest investigation into Hatfield’s conduct was never done and is suing Sheriff Jones for "Ratification." Dlott is also allowing that portion of the suit to move forward.
“The Court finds that whether the Sheriff’s office conducted a “meaningful investigation” into Deputy Hatfield’s conduct is a question for the jury. Although the letter that put the Sheriff on notice did not specifically mention Gray, the subject matter of the concerns—overcharging suspects to obtain overtime—is certainly applicable here, where Plaintiff asserts he was improperly charged.”
Konrad Kircher, Gray's attorney, is pleased the case is headed for trial.
"We're grateful to Judge Dlott for recognizing the many inconsistencies in the defendant's stories. We are looking forward to which story deputy Hatfield tells at trial and will be ready to deal with whichever story he tells," said Kircher.
Judge Dlott did issue a Summary Judgment for some portions of the suit for example dismissing the claim that Sheriff Jones had anything to do with the tape.
WCPO reached out to the Butler County Sheriff’s Office for comment but was told the office couldn’t comment citing pending litigation.
Trial is set for Jan. 22, 2019.