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Officers, residents support Bethel police chief at village council meeting following I-Team report

I-Team investigated Chad Essert's prior conduct as a police officer
Bethel police officer Richard Haas told the Village Council officers support Chief Chad Essert
Posted at 6:52 PM, Apr 14, 2023
and last updated 2023-04-14 18:52:40-04

BETHEL, Ohio — Bethel residents and village police officers showed their support for Police Chief Chad Essert on Thursday during a Village Council meeting.

It was the first public council meeting since the WCPO 9 I-Team reported on Essert's previous work and discipline history as a police officer with other departments.

"I feel this is simply a smear campaign trying to hurt the great things that this department has done," Bethel police officer Richard Haas said. "During my time with Chief Essert, I've seen nothing but professionalism and leadership."

Bethel Police Chief Chad Essert
Bethel Police Chief Chad Essert

On Tuesday, the I-Team reported that Essert's personnel records from other law enforcement agencies show he was cited for alleged misconduct that included sexual harassment of a female officer, disobeying orders and untruthfulness. The documents show he was terminated or resigned under threat of termination from three of his previous six policing jobs.

The I-Team's report Wednesday focused on the Bethel Police Department's traffic enforcement, which resulted in a surge in traffic tickets and village revenue through Bethel's Mayor's Court, according to Bethel records. The I-Team showed that village officers received three points on their evaluation for every traffic ticket and misdemeanor citation they write, but only one point for arresting someone who has a warrant.

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

Bethel Mayor Jay Noble said the more than three-fold increase in tickets during Essert's first full year as chief was motivated by public safety, not the additional revenue received through Mayor's Court.

"There's no funny business going on," Noble told the I-Team after the council meeting. "This (traffic safety) has been a public safety issue for over and year-and-a-half or two years."

After receiving Essert's email a few weeks ago on the increase in traffic tickets and Mayor's Court revenue, Noble answered, "Awesome. Thanks."

On Thursday, Noble insisted he wrote 'awesome' because Essert sent him the update quickly, not because it showed increased revenue from tickets.

Bethel Mayor Jay Noble
Bethel Mayor Jay Noble

Two law enforcement experts who reviewed Essert's personnel records at the I-Team's request said Essert's work history has "red flags" that raise questions about the thoroughness of the village's background search of Essert.

"It's discouraging," nationally recognized public safety consultant Christine Cole said. "They made a decision to hire this person either without knowing or irrespective of the background information that you've been able to uncover."

Village officials have repeatedly refused to say if they requested and reviewed Essert's work and discipline history prior to hiring him as police chief in October 2021.

But at the council meeting on Thursday, former councilman Alan Ausman — who served on the council when Essert was hired — defended the "vetting" of Essert.

"I along with many others saw the Channel 9 I-Team report," Ausman said. "It was highly offensive to me to hear these people they interviewed say we should have done a public records request like we had no idea what to do. The truth is we didn't have to do a public records request cause Mr. Essert was upfront about his professional and personal life to us all."

Ausman, two police officers and two other village residents spoke in support of Essert during the council meeting. No one at the meeting expressed concerns about the information mentioned in the I-Team's reports.

"They (WCPO) want to peddle garbage," Tom Morris said. "This is Bethel and I will stand for him. I'll protect him."

Essert didn't respond to previous requests for an interview.

He and the council didn't address the I-Team's reporting during the council meeting.