A felon pardoned by former Gov. Bevin was elected constable. He could soon have police powers

A felon pardoned by former Gov. Bevin was elected constable
Published: May. 18, 2022 at 9:14 AM EDT
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CAMPBELL COUNTY, Ky. (Cincinnati Enquirer) - A convicted felon in Northern Kentucky could soon have police powers.

J.R. Roth won election as a constable in Campbell County on Tuesday night, beating veteran police officer Barrett “B.J.” Champagne in Tuesday’s primary, 56% to 44%.

Both are Republicans. No Democrats have filed for the seat, and there is no opposition in the general election.

Roth, of Cold Spring, was convicted in 2017 of trafficking narcotics but received a pardon from Gov. Matt Bevin in 2019. He had served two years of a 15-year sentence.

It was one of more than 254 pardons Bevin made during his final weeks in office.

Campbell County officials urged voters to cast their votes for Champagne.

“In Campbell County this year we are witnessing a complete travesty,” the county’s top elected official, Judge-executive Steve Pendery said in a written statement in March. “A man recently convicted of a serious felony is running for constable, not because that makes any sense, but because he can.”

Despite the pleas, Roth received 1,791 votes, almost 400 more than Champagne.

The position of constable has caused controversy in Kentucky.

Constables have had arrest powers but no training requirements and in most cases few requirements for publicly reporting what they do. For decades, Kentucky lawmakers had attempted to reform the position or abolish it.

The Kentucky General Assembly succeed this year in passing a bill that will require constables receive training before they can arrest anyone. So if Roth or any other new constables want to arrest anyone, they will have to become certified peace officers now.

Otherwise, new constables will be limited to serving papers.

The reforms come after numerous incidents across the state with constables overstepping their authority.

Such as in 2016, when a constable in Laurel County just south of Lexington shot and killed an unarmed man in an attempt to serve a warrant.

Or last year, when a Kenton County constable tried to repossess furniture. He pulled a gun on the furniture’s owner, threatened to kill him and kept him confined to his bedroom while the furniture was repossessed, according to police reports and court documents.

Enquirer research found at least nine constables across Kentucky have been convicted since 2010. Their crimes include drug possession, planting evidence and sexual abuse.

Most of the constables in Northern Kentucky just serve legal papers.

No constables in the urban and suburban counties of Boone, Kenton and Campbell have written any citations or responded to any law enforcement calls since at least 2015, according to records obtained by The Enquirer from the Kentucky State Police.

In more rural counties, they’re more active in a law enforcement capacity.

It’s a law enforcement position that stretches back more than 200 years. Kentucky law still sets out archaic duties for constables.

A constable can make $3 for killing and burying a sick horse, donkey or mule.

Killing and burying cattle is only worth $2 per head to a constable.

Dispatching a “mad dog” can make a constable literally a quick buck, $1 per “mad dog.”

“Taking up a vagrant” will get a constable 50 cents.

For the 21st Century constable, the real bread-and-butter is in fees collected serving court papers, such as writs, warrants, summons, subpoenas and evictions.

They can charge up to $70 per service, the same as the county sheriff.

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