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Bethel police chief's troubling career: Disciplined for sexual harassment, lying and disobeying orders

Chad Essert was terminated or forced to resign three times in six previous jobs
Posted: 7:07 PM, Apr 11, 2023
Updated: 2023-04-12 18:46:41-04
Bethel police chief Chad Essert

Bethel Police Chief Chad Essert got his job even though he was fired or resigned under threat of termination from three of his six previous jobs in law enforcement, according to his personnel records from prior employers.

The WCPO 9 I-Team's review of Essert's personnel records shows he was cited for alleged misconduct as a police officer, including a sexual harassment complaint filed against him by a female officer, intimidation of witnesses, untruthfulness, and disobeying orders, according to those records.  

The I-Team obtained most of Essert's personnel records within a few weeks. Those documents reveal how he eventually became a small-town police chief for two departments — Fayetteville and Bethel — despite being told earlier that he had failed to meet basic police department standards with other law enforcement agencies.   

Retired Woodlawn Police Chief Jeff Witte reviewed Essert's law enforcement personnel records at the I-Team's request
Retired Woodlawn Police Chief Jeff Witte reviewed Essert's law enforcement personnel records at the I-Team's request

“A lot of this would have been relatively easy to find in a thorough background check,” retired Woodlawn Police Chief Jeff Witte said. “I’d be very curious to see what was involved in the background investigation before he was hired for his current job as chief in Bethel."

The I-Team asked Witte — a former Ohio Peace Officer Academy instructor with a 35-year career in law enforcement — to review Essert's personnel records. We obtained the documents through public records requests the I-Team filed with his current and former employers.

"Clearly a lot of the things that you sent me from the background that you did would have been red flags whether hiring a chief or just an entry-level police officer,” Witte said.

Bethel Mayor Jay Noble and Essert — hired as Bethel's police chief in October 2021 — declined to respond to the I-Team's requests for an interview.

The police department has six officers, including Essert, for a village of about 2,600 residents, according to Bethel's website.

Essert's hiring followed a tumultuous period for the Bethel Police Department.

In 2020, the Bethel police response to a counter-protest against a Black Lives Matter demonstration was widely criticized. The village paid for an independent review of the police department. That review documented systemic failures and recommended reform.

In a brief phone interview on March 20, Bethel's Village Administrator Travis Dotson said Essert was "by far the most professional" applicant for the job.

Dotson said he couldn’t remember how village officials conducted background checks of Essert and if the village requested and reviewed the chief’s personnel records from other law enforcement agencies.  

In response to the I-Team’s public records request, Bethel provided a list of 26 questions that village officials asked Essert and other finalists for the police chief position.  

The Village of Bethel in Clermont County
The Village of Bethel in Clermont County

“One thing that the new Chief will need to bring to the department is a renewed sense of motivation, teamwork, and positive energy,” according to the list. “How would you go about that task?” 

Dotson told the I-Team that Essert was on the “same page” as village officials on the priorities for the police department. 

None of the 26 questions asked finalists about their disciplinary record or if they’d ever been fired or resigned under threat of termination.

North College Hill Police Department  

Nearly 20 years ago, as a rookie police officer on probation with the North College Hill Police Department, Essert's on-duty conduct raised concerns among other officers, Essert's unidentified supervisor and a police Sgt. about "Chad's integrity, embellishment of facts, and outright untruthfulness," according to an internal police report identified as 'Supervisor's Notes'. 

According to the supervisor's report, Essert claimed he saw a suspect run out of a store, even though surveillance video proved the man never went in the store.

Essert also claimed he was in court for a hearing, but Essert said the hearing was rescheduled because the defendant requested a continuance. According to the report, court records showed Essert had requested the continuance and two officers who were in the courtroom said Essert wasn't there, the supervisor wrote.

In another incident, Essert asked the supervisor to notarize a criminal complaint for drug trafficking based on Essert's claim that the defendant had two baggies of marijuana prepped for resale. But another officer told the supervisor that wasn't true and that some of the marijuana was loose in a napkin, according to the report.

Essert was counseled at least three times concerning his 'integrity' and the importance of being truthful, according to the supervisor's notes.

NCHPD terminated Essert in Sept. 2004 for "unsatisfactory performance" during his probation, according to Essert's personnel file and his state peace officer record.

 Village of Lincoln Heights Police Department  

Ten months after he was fired by North College Hill, Essert applied for a full-time police officer job with the Village of Lincoln Heights, according to his job application.

On his application, Essert claimed he left NCHPD because of "conflict with assignment."

In Oct. 2005, Lincoln Heights hired Essert as a full-time police officer, according to his personnel records. Two years later, he became an auxiliary officer.

Essert claimed he was treated unfairly and that some of his personal equipment had been stolen, according to his personnel records.

In May 2008, Essert and the village reached a severance agreement that paid him $3,803.

Village of Maineville Police Department  

Maineville has no record that Essert worked there, even though his peace officer history shows he was a part-time officer there from Nov. 2008 through Oct. 2009.

"Notably, the Village's record retention schedule permits personnel files to be purged two years after municipal employment ends," according to Village Solicitor Julie Byrne.

Village of Elmwood Place Police Department  

As an Elmwood Place police officer in March 2010, Essert was placed on unpaid administrative leave for three weeks for sexually harassing a female officer, according to Essert's personnel records.

In her complaint — redacted by the I-Team to protect her identity — the alleged victim wrote that Essert walked up to her door while she was sitting in her police car.

"He stuck his arm in the car I was in, then scratched under my chin and said, 'My nuts itch,'" according to the alleged victim's complaint.

The officer wrote that after that incident, Essert "grabbed my right butt cheek really hard to the point that it hurt."

She also accused Essert — who was married to a Cincinnati police officer at the time — of making repeated unwanted advances to her. Then, after she turned him down, Essert started criticizing her in front of other officers, she wrote.

Two months after being disciplined for sexual harassment, Essert still hadn't complied with his order to complete sexual harassment training and write a letter of apology to his alleged victim, according to an Elmwood Place internal police investigation report.

Essert said that he had enrolled in a sexual harassment class, but it wasn’t scheduled until June, according to the report.  

In May 2010, Elmwood Place started a criminal investigation of Essert for intimidation of witnesses, according to the internal investigation report.

The I-Team redacted personal identifying information in the report, including the names of witnesses.
A woman who claimed to have an intimate relationship with Essert told investigators that Essert said he "knew police everywhere" and threatened to have her "locked up" if she revealed their relationship.

Essert admitted having a "relationship" with the woman and spending time with her while he was on duty, but Essert denied threatening her, according to the investigation report.

According to the report, Elmwood Place Police Chief William Peskin told Essert to not contact witnesses, including the woman, but Essert later admitted he contacted them anyway.

A judge approved search warrants for Essert's phone and phones belonging to two witnesses, according to the investigation report.

According to the report, Elmwood Place investigators provided a summary report on the case to Hamilton County Assistant Prosecutor Mark Piepmeier who told them the case should be handled as an administrative matter.

"Mark Peipmeier (sic) advised that it has a possibility of criminal charges but as of this point the administrative would be best but criminal is not out of the question," according to the report.

Chief Peskin told Essert he was terminated, but Essert — now an auxiliary officer — appealed his case to Elmwood Place Mayor Stephanie Morgan.

"I am passionate about law enforcement and being a good police officer and do not want this to negatively impact me in the future," Essert wrote in his May 21, 2010, letter to Morgan.

Essert only mentioned his previous sexual harassment case in his letter to Morgan, not the criminal investigation and additional department violations that Peskin said actually prompted Essert's termination.

In an email, Morgan told Essert he had 24 hours to resign, or he would be terminated. 

Essert resigned.

Brown County Sheriff's Office and Essert's peace officer 'issues'  

On Sept. 24, 2012, Essert was sworn in as a special deputy with the Brown County Sheriff's Office, according to his BCSO personnel records.

Two weeks later, the BCSO received a letter from the Ohio Peace Officer Training Academy notifying them that OPOTA wasn't accepting Essert's hiring as a special deputy because the agency didn't have proper paperwork for him and there appeared to be a two-year break in his service as a peace officer.

OPOTA records show — based on unresolved issues with Essert's paperwork — the agency refused to approve the BCSO's hiring of Essert for more than 9 months.

On May 9, 2013, Essert wrote a letter to Lincoln Heights Village Administrator Stephanie Summerow Dumas pleading for her help. The I-Team obtained Essert's letter from Lincoln Heights as part of the village's response to the I-Team's public records request for Essert's personnel records.

Essert claimed that he had worked at a peace officer academy and needed an active peace officer commission. So, he asked Lincoln Heights "Sgt. Green" to "put me on the books," according to his letter.

"I would not carry a gun, take a badge, or be given a police ID," Essert wrote. "I just needed my commission held. He agreed to do so. Unbeknown (sic) to me, he may not have had that authority. He filled out my paperwork and held my commission."

In his letter, Essert told Dumas that OPOTA had rejected his hiring at BCSO because Lincoln Heights still showed him on their books.

He begged Dumas to sign a form he included with his letter.

"I currently have a wife and two little children," Essert wrote. "I simply need a signature to continue to work. Right now I am not able to work. I know this sounds crazy but you control my life with just the swipe of a pen."

At the bottom of the letter, Dumas — now a Hamilton County Commissioner — signed her initials and dated it the same day.

"I refused to sign," she wrote.

Essert's peace officer records were signed by Acting Police Chief Jesse Green and returned to OPOTA. Our attempts to reach Green for comment have been unsuccessful.

Three months after that, Essert, received counseling for failing to write reports on four incidents, including one that involved taking a person into custody, according to his BCSO disciplinary report.

In Sept. 2015, the BCSO terminated Essert because "your obligation as a special Deputy has not been fulfilled to the standards prescribed by the Brown County Sheriff's Office," according to the termination letter.

 Village of Fayetteville Police Department  

Four months after the BCSO being terminated Essert, he applied for an auxiliary police officer job "ASAP" with the Fayetteville Police Department, according to his job application.

On the application, Essert claimed he left the BCSO because he "couldn't donate the time."

Court records show in April 2020, while he was Fayetteville's Police Chief, Essert was charged with domestic violence.

According to the criminal complaint, Essert and the alleged victim got into an argument over property.

"Defendant turned his steering wheel into victim's path while driving away, causing his truck to strike her. Victim sustained scrapes to both her arms and her right leg," according to the complaint.

Initially, the victim didn't want charges filed and claimed she had overreacted, according to court records.

On Oct. 27, 2020, Essert pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct, according to court records.

A year later, he resigned as Fayetteville police chief. He agreed to work another 45 days to help with the transition if needed, according to his resignation letter.

Fayetteville failed to provide Essert's resignation letter in response to the I-Team's initial public records request. In their first response, Fayetteville claimed to find only four pages of records documenting Essert's five-and-a-half years with the department. There weren't any performance evaluations and no documents related to the criminal case against him while he was the village police chief.

After the I-Team pushed back on Fayetteville's initial response, and emailed additional questions to Fayetteville Fiscal Officer Jacqueline Schmidt, she provided additional documents.

"After further review of files, the attached documentation has been provided to me," Schmidt wrote.

She provided a copy of Essert's resignation letter and more than 80 certificates and letters acknowledging Essert's education and training since 2002. The documents included a copy of Essert's high school diploma.

But there was still no evaluation of his performance as a police officer or chief, and no records related to the criminal case against him.

Village of Bethel Police Department  

On Oct. 14, 2021, Bethel appointed Essert as their police chief, according to the village's statement.

The next day, Essert submitted his letter of resignation as Fayetteville's police chief.

"It's discouraging," nationally recognized public safety consultant Christine Cole said. "We know that past behavior is the best indicator of future behavior."

Cole is a former executive director of Boston's Crime and Justice Institute and Harvard's Program in Criminal Justice Policy and Management. She also reviewed Essert's personnel records at the I-Team's request.

"They made a decision to hire this person either without knowing or irrespective of the background information that you've been able to uncover," Cole said.

Public safety expert Christine Cole
Public safety expert Christine Cole

Bethel's Village Administrator Travis Dotson told the I-Team that village officials interviewed finalists for the police chief position, but he couldn't remember how they conducted background checks or what was discovered in the process.

In a written statement, the village stated that Essert's hiring complied with Ohio state statutes, which required him to pass a physical examination by a licensed medical practitioner within 60 days of being appointed police chief.

Essert also passed a drug test and Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation (BCI) criminal background check, according to records provided by Bethel.

Ohio law doesn't require public officials to conduct more thorough background checks on applicants for law enforcement jobs.

In 2015, the Cincinnati Police Department filed public records requests for Essert's personnel records because he had applied for job with CPD, according to his personnel file.

But records show CPD didn't hire him.

Cole said prior to hiring a police officer it's considered "best practice" to request and review an officer's personnel records from previous employers, examine the applicant's credit history, and examine additional civil court records that may reveal important details about the person's personal life.

"It should be incredibly comprehensive because this is a really important position in a community and one where you want the community to see the police department and particularly its leadership as legitimate," Cole said.

In Bethel's statement, village officials expressed support for Essert.

"During his service to the Village of Bethel, Chief Essert has conducted himself in a professional manner and has strived to elevate the professionalism of the Bethel Police Department," according to the statement. "He has conducted the Village of Bethel’s first Citizens’ Police Academy and has implemented a body-worn camera program. Further, since taking over, Chief Essert has secured over $200,000 in grant funding to help add officers and provide needed equipment for department operations."

Village officials and staff would not grant interviews, according to Bethel's statement.

Dotson emailed that statement to the I-Team on March 21, the day after he spoke with us briefly on the phone.

The Bethel Police Department
The Bethel Police Department

Bethel's statement also mentioned that Essert "has achieved the Gold Standard for compliance with the Lexipol Police Policy for every quarter since he has taken over."

Many law enforcement agencies, including Bethel, pay Lexipol for services that include training and policy guidelines.

Lexipol co-founder Gordon Graham published an article in 2018 about the importance of job applicants' work history as a predictor for integrity issues.

"The only way to “test” for integrity is to recognize that the best predictor of future behavior is past behavior, and if you hire people who have a history of behavior that demonstrates a lack of integrity, you have a problem lying in wait," Graham wrote.

Writing more tickets, producing more revenue  

In 2022, Essert's first full year as Bethel's police chief, the village's police officers wrote 1316 traffic tickets, a 231% increase over 2021, according to the Bethel Police Department's 2022 annual report.

The report shows Bethel’s Mayor's Court had $177,660 last year in gross revenue.

Bethel’s share of that revenue was $131,400. That was nearly triple the $51,022 the village collected in 2021.

In a March 20, 2023, email to Mayor Noble and Village Administrator Travis Dotson, Essert provided a spreadsheet for Mayor’s Court showing that in 2022 the police department wrote more tickets and generated more revenue for Mayor’s Court than any previous year since 2015.  

The spreadsheet showed that for January and February 2023, Bethel police had written 228 tickets, more than any previous year for those months.  

The tickets resulted in $28,051.79 in gross revenue for Mayor’s Court, according to Essert’s email. That was a 60% increase over the $16,861.80 in gross revenue for the same two months in 2022.  

 “Awesome,” Noble wrote in his email response to Essert. 

 That night, the I-Team spoke briefly with Dotson on the phone.  

 A day later, Dotson emailed the I-Team a written statement.  

"In recent years, Village Council has been focused on the safety of vehicles on our roads and has conveyed this concern to the Chief of Police," according to a written statement Bethel provided to the I-Team. "The Chief has taken steps to address these safety concerns, which has resulted in an increase in speed citations."

Bethel police officers on a traffic stop
Bethel police officers on a traffic stop

According to Bethel's police department evaluations, officers are graded on a point system.

"Right now, our focus is traffic safety," Essert told the Village Council Safety Committee on Jan. 10, 2022. "So, for at least the first quarter, we're putting a lot more points into traffic enforcement."

The officers' evaluations for the 4th quarter of 2022 show they received 3 points for each traffic ticket and misdemeanor citation. They received one point for writing a warning, one point for arresting someone with a warrant, and half a point for a business check.

“This system is clearly skewed to reward officers for writing traffic tickets and misdemeanor citations," Witte said.

Cole said she was also concerned about the point system used to evaluate the performance of Bethel's officers.

"It's apparent there's an incentive for police officers to engage in more aggressive kinds of policing," Cole said. "It's not policing that's designed for enhancing public safety. It's policing designed to generate revenue for the government."

Mayor's Court in Bethel is scheduled for the third Wednesday in every month.

The I-Team covered the most recent Mayor's Court session on March 15.

Most of the defendants were there for moving traffic violations and speeding.

According to Bethel's statement, about two-thirds of the tickets handed out by village officers in 2022 are "speed-related." The I-Team determined 18% of those violations occurred in a school zone.

"The overwhelming majority of these speed citations issued were for violations in excess 10 miles per hour over the posted speed limit," according to the village's statement.

The most dramatic and longest hearing — about 23 minutes long — involved a man charged with criminal trespassing for being in a public park after hours.

Teddy McCown said he was in his vehicle on Jan. 20, 2023, playing the online game Pokemon Go and didn't see the signs showing Burke Park was closed.

Teddy McCown testifying at Bethel's Mayor's Court on March 15, 2023
Teddy McCown testifying at Bethel's Mayor's Court on March 15, 2023

Former Bethel Police Officer Rick Brees — now a Brown County Sheriff's deputy — testified that he calmly approached McCown's vehicle.

"I did not want to escalate the situation," Brees testified.

Brees said he spoke loudly to McCown and asked how many people were in his vehicle as he shined his flashlight at it.

"I was doing anything I could to deescalate the situation," Brees testified.

Brees said McCown was "agitated" and refused to give the officer his identification.

"He said he was calm," McCown testified. "He had his taser pointed. He had the bright lights pointed into my cab and he was yelling. He didn't want to give me his name or his supervisor's and he said he didn't have to."

Brees said he put stop sticks — a tire deflation strip — behind McCown's left rear tire to prevent a possible vehicle pursuit.

Two Clermont County Sheriff's deputies responded to Brees' request for backup.

Brees and McCown testified that McCown was cooperative with the deputies who — unlike Brees — were wearing body cameras, according to McCown.

In Mayor's Court, McCown was mostly upset about how he said Brees approached him.

After McCown testified, he interrupted Magistrate Joseph Candito to keep making his point that he believed Brees' conduct was wrong, even if McCown was trespassing.

"I'm not a criminal," McCown said.

"You got to be quiet or you're going to jail right now," Candito told him.

"Of course," McCown muttered.

Candito sentenced him to 10 days in jail. A Bethel police officer handcuffed McCown.

McCown immediately backed down, apologized and pleaded to not be sent to jail.

The magistrate suspended McCown's 10-day jail sentence and said the sentence would be removed as soon as McCown paid his fine and court costs.

Right after the hearing, McCown said he wrote a check for $341 to the village. It included the $250 fine. He told the I-Team he thought Bethel's response — from police to Mayor's Court - was heavy-handed and unnecessary.

"It's just a lot going on with this department," McCown said. "They don't know how to handle themselves very good." 

Essert's failed attempt to expunge his criminal case   

Four months after Bethel hired Essert, he was back in court trying to get his criminal case expunged.

The alleged victim — who initially fought against charging Essert — now testified against the expungement because she believed Essert was harassing her by filing anonymous complaints against her at work.

"I've been told from his own words that he would make me pay for this," she told Warren County Judge Robert Fischer during a hearing on Feb. 22, 2022. "It's just been a nightmare."

Essert denied her allegations. He told Fischer that she had misrepresented what happened to her and only wanted to contest the expungement because she “lost” in a civil court case. 

Chad Essert at his expungement hearing on Feb. 22, 2022
Chad Essert at his expungement hearing on Feb. 22, 2022

“Unfortunately, we have to use attorneys to communicate with one another,” Essert told Fischer. “That’s how bad it has become.” 

In their civil case, Warren County Magistrate W. Scott Russell determined that Essert and the woman had “harassed and/or annoyed” each other.  

Russell found both of them in contempt and sentenced them to 10 days in jail. The magistrate suspended the jail sentences.  

In Essert’s criminal case, Judge Fischer denied Essert’s first application for expungement.

"Def is not sufficiently rehabilitated," according to Fisher's entry in the case summary. "Therefore, motion is denied."

Two months later, Essert was back in court trying to get the case expunged again. This time he brought his attorney.

"His mayor and council have asked him to try to clear his record up," Essert's attorney Charles Rittgers told Fischer. "This is a disorderly conduct for a man who has no criminal history."

Fischer said he wanted to review additional records before ruling on Essert's motion to expunge the case.

After that, the judge denied Essert's second request for expungement. 

Bethel Police Department 'values'

Village of Bethel officials have publicly provided unwavering support for Essert and how he's running the police department.

Essert has emphasized the department's values on the village website. The three operational values are fairness, integrity, and loyalty, according to the website.

"Integrity: We will strive to uphold public trust by being honest, competent, and consistent in our beliefs and actions," according to the website. "We will hold ourselves accountable to the highest standards of professionalism through moral and ethical conduct."

Despite Essert's accomplishments in Bethel, Witte said it appears village officials failed to conduct a thorough background check on Essert, including a review of his personnel records and discipline history from previous employers in law enforcement.    

“You were able to find all this," Witte said. "It’s not hard to get."

Cole agrees.

"We as taxpayers should expect a lot from our government," said Cole. "And it feels to me that the people who live in Bethel maybe aren't getting what they deserve from their government."