COLUMBUS - A former Ohio State Highway Patrol superintendent said yesterday he and former colleagues are concerned that investigatory decisions are being increasingly influenced and politicized by the Strickland administration.
Former Col. Richard Collins, who was asked to resign along with his boss last year by Gov. Ted Strickland to resolve what was described as personality conflicts, told a Senate committee that December's decision to scuttle a planned sting at the governor's residence fits the pattern.
"I think we have a responsibility to stay independent," said Mr. Collins, who spent more than 31 years with the patrol, six of them as commander of the patrol's Findlay District.
"We offer, as we have other administrations, to provide overviews of criminal cases that we were involved in, but as far as how we proceed with those investigations, how we work with local elected prosecutors … that's our responsibility, not the responsibility of the civilian authority, the lawyers, and the legal section," he said.
The Republican-controlled Senate Judiciary-Criminal Justice Committee is holding hearings looking generally into allegations of interference by civilian officials in highway patrol investigations and specifically the decision to call off the sting at the governor's mansion meant to catch someone in the act of slipping contraband to an inmate working there to convey back to the prison.
It remains unclear what the contraband was, although conjecture among officials has ranged from drugs to tobacco.
"Regardless of what that was or was not, once we knew that some kind of transaction was going to take place, I think it was the highway patrol's responsibility to intervene," Mr. Collins said.
He said that if he were still head of the highway patrol at the time, that sting would have proceeded as planned.
Superiors had raised safety concerns, questioning the wisdom of allowing the apparent transaction to take place on the grounds of the governor's home. Ultimately, the woman who was planning the drop was tipped off.
"Would the Secret Service allow a package to be thrown over the White House wall if they didn't know what it was?" Sen. Nina Turner (D., Cleveland) asked.
The committee's chairman, Sen. Tim Grendell (R., Chesterland), said he "intends to use the full investigatory powers of this committee to get to the bottom of what I believe is a growing stack of evidence that politics is overcoming public safety."
Mr. Collins was promoted to superintendent by Henry Guzman, Mr. Strickland's first director of public safety, with whom Mr. Collins admitted yesterday he often disagreed. The governor ultimately asked both for their resignations.
Strickland spokesman Amanda Wurst said the governor is committed to the patrol's mission, but added that he believes in civilian oversight.
"No one is allowed to inappropriately steer, direct, or interfere with criminal investigations," she said.
"The patrol is entirely free to investigate criminal matters that are within its jurisdiction and report findings to the appropriate prosecutor. There has not been and will not be any improper inference with the legitimate law enforcement activity of the patrol."
She noted that Mr. Collins, who retired in September, didn't have the benefit of the discussions that took place later among the current public safety director, new patrol superintendent, director of the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction, and the governor's protection team before calling off the sting.
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A former Ohio State Highway Patrol superintendent said Wednesday he and former colleagues are concerned that investigatory decisions are being increasingly influenced and politicized by the Strickland administration.