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Two Lucas County Sheriff's employees plead guilty to witness tampering

Two employees of the Lucas County Sheriff s office, who faced federal charges involving the July, 2007, assault of an inmate at the jail, pleaded guilty Monday in U.S. District Court in Toledo on a misdemeanor charge.

Sheriff s Deputy Joel McConnell and James Kotlarczyk each pleaded guilty to one count of witness tampering. The men, who remain employed at the department in the records division, face prison time when sentenced March 9.

The charge stems from an assault at the jail for which Seth Bunke, a former corrections officer, was convicted last month after a week-long jury trial. Bunke was found guilty of three counts of violating civil rights, including using excessive force on an inmate, Jeffrey Jones, on July 11, 2007.

Deputy McConnell, 29, of Toledo, and Mr. Kotlarczyk, 45, of Holland, each were charged originally with conspiracy and falsification of records, both felonies. Assistant U.S. Attorney Kristy Parker said the charges would be dismissed at sentencing.

In a hearing before Judge Jack Zouhary, both men admitted to saying that they would write the official report of what happened to Jones while he was incarcerated in the jail, "with the purpose of keeping other officers from disseminating the truth about what had happened," Ms. Parker said. The new charges were contained in bills of information filed with the court Friday.

The misdemeanor charge carries a maximum of 1 year in prison. However, Ms. Parker said that because of the underlying crime involved that being Bunke s assault on Jones a preliminary calculation of federal guidelines indicated that the men face between 37 and 46 months in prison.

Jon Rogers of the sheriff s office internal affairs division said there will be an internal review of the case that could lead to other disciplinary measures, including terminations with the department.

Both men began working at the sheriff s office in 2006. Bunke, who faces up to 12 years in prison, will be sentenced in February.

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