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The turmoil at the Pike County Sheriff's Office

Posted: 8:52 PM, Apr 28, 2016
Updated: 2016-04-29 14:51:53Z

PIKETON, Ohio – The sheriff's department people are counting on to solve the massacre of eight family members here last week has had to investigate some of its own deputies for serious crimes in the past few years.

Since 2013, four deputies from the Pike County Sheriff's Office have been involved in three separate incidents that resulted in criminal charges or resignations, according to our news partner, WBNS in Columbus.

And the Pike County Sheriff's Office only employs 13 deputies.

What does that say about the sheriff's department? Piketon resident Alan Newberry is familiar with the cases.

"You can think you know somebody and you check them out, but you don't know the inner person as well as you think you do," Newberry said.

Most recently, WBNS reported that Deputy Joel Jenkins was indicted in 2015 on five counts related to two fatal shootings -- one at his home in December and another while on duty on a rural road in March.

Jenkins was charged with murder, reckless homicide, involuntary manslaughter, and tampering with evidence. He was fired.

The victims were 26-year-old Robert Rooker, a stranger, and 40-year-old Jason Brady, a neighbor.

The Columbus Dispatch reported that Rooker, who had spent a year in prison in 2009-10 for burglary and theft, was speeding and rammed two cruisers during a chase on March 28. His vehicle crashed on a dead-end road.

Another officer also fired at Rooker’s vehicle, but only Jenkins' shots apparently hit Rooker.

Jenkins was suspended but later returned to work. In May, Sheriff Richard Henderson resigned and current Sheriff Charles Reader took over. Reader put Jenkins on administrative leave until he underwent treatment.

“He seemed to be doing fine,” Reader said.

Then came the Dec. 3 shooting at Jenkins’ house. Jenkins called to say he had accidentally shot Brady in head. Brady, a friend to many, used to feed and walk Jenkins’ police dog.

The first officers at the scene said it was clear that Jenkins had been drinking.

That case gained national attention because county prosecutor Rob Junk had lent Jenkins some of his guns for protection, the Dispatch reported.

In 2014, WBNS reported that Pike County deputies Phil Hopper and Paul Wheeler violently attacked Hopper's 16-year-old stepson at their home. They weren't charged but resigned.

Hopper's wife said the deputies were drunk. The deputies claimed they were defending themselves against a violent, out-of-control teenager.

An independent Ross County Sheriff's investigation found all three could have faced criminal charges.

Wheeler said the situation came to a head when Hopper ordered the teen to go in the house and the teen sucker-punched Hopper in the face.

"He started walking around toward Phil and when he walked past Phil he just turned around and jacked him," Wheeler said. His fiancee supported his story.

But the 16-year-old, his mother, and his friend told a different story.

"I started to walk away when Phil yelled 'march.' I told them they were acting like jerks, then he grabbed me by the head and tried to put me on the ground," the teen said.

His friend told investigators, "Phil grabbed (the teen) by the face and pulled him to the ground and then Wheeler and Phil were on top of him and Wheeler was holding him down kneeing (the teen) and Phil hitting (the teen)."

Hopper's wife backed up that account:

"We just kept screaming, ‘Get off of him! Get off of him!’ and Wheeler was kicking him in the side. He had his knee down in him. Phil was punching him," she said.

Residents say that incident doesn't reflect upon the sheriff's office.

"I think it's just the individuals," said Newberry. "Basically we got a good sheriff's department - good men, good investigators - but things like that happen."

In 2013, the Pike County News Watchman covered the case against former Chief Deputy Clyde Franklin, who pleaded no contest to gross sexual imposition.

In 2011, a grand jury charged him with engaging in sexual activity with a child under the age of 10. The crimes occurred between October 2008 and January 2009, according to the indictment.

Sanders was sentenced to five years of community control sanctions and ordered to register as a Tier 2 sex offender.

While the sheriff's office continued its investigation into the Rhoden family murders on Thursday, Newberry and other residents defended Reader, who took over the sheriff's post last year.

"Charlie didn't have anything to do with (crimes by deputies). That was past tense," Newberry said.

None of these deputies are implicated in the Rhoden case. WCPO wanted to know if the arrests point to general problems in the department.

The sheriff at the time of these incidents, Henderson, resigned last year.

We have reached out to both men for comment.