Ohio AG Office: ‘unable to identify’ all Pike County costs

FOX19 NOW Investigates: Pike Co. massacre investigation spending
FOX19 NOW/Jody Barr
FOX19 NOW/Jody Barr
FOX19 NOW/Jody Barr
FOX19 NOW/Jody Barr

PIKE COUNTY, OH (FOX19) - It wasn't long after sunrise on April 22 that the first 911 call reached dispatchers in Pike County.

It was a caller who found Christopher Rhoden, Sr. and Gary Rhoden, both shot to death inside their Union Hill Road home.

Then another, and another, and another.

By early afternoon, eight people were found, each shot to death inside four different homes along Union Hill and Left Fork Road.

When the first agents from the Ohio Attorney General's Office's Bureau of Criminal Investigation reached the crime scenes, everyone involved in trying to solve the killings knew this one was going to take some time.

And money.

The first BCI agent reached the scene around 11 a.m., Ohio Attorney Mike DeWine told FOX19 during an interview in June.

Those agents didn't leave until dawn the next morning.

That first day was just the first of many days BCI and county law enforcement would earn overtime.

But, overtime wasn't the only expenses taxpayers covered during the Rhoden murder investigation.

PIKE COUNTY SHERIFF: "MY BOOKS ARE OPEN"

A FOX19 open records request reached Sheriff Charles Reader on Sept. 6.

We asked Reader for all the invoices and for the total of the spending on the Rhoden investigation.

It took Reader's office exactly one week to provide us a spreadsheet, detailing what his office had spent on the investigation at that point.

But, the records Reader's office provided us was not everything he'd spent on the investigation.

Reader's original spreadsheet, emailed to us on Sept. 13, did not include any of the overtime totals paid to his deputies.

That total topped out at $69,130.79 and ended on June 25, according to the records Reader ultimately provided to us during a Sept. 26 interview inside his office.

The Pike County spending included:

  • $12,994.00 for vehicle and mobile home towing
  • $25,148.36 for rental fees, portable restrooms, surveillance cameras, fuel, coolers, undercover truck, and bed bug treatments for one of the Rhoden crime scenes
  • $97,498 to two contractors to move the crime scenes, secure the Union Hill and Left Fork Road properties and evidence preservation
  • $69,130.79 for overtime pay for Pike County deputies.

During our Sept. 26 meeting with Sheriff Reader, he told us this wasn't a total accounting of the Rhoden investigation costs.

He did not provide further documentation or information on what else was spent.

As of this report, we still have not received that documentation.

On Sept. 28, we aired a series of investigative reports into the security of the Rhoden evidence warehouse.

Those reports detailed what appeared to be unsecured and unguarded entrances to the warehouse property where dozens of pieces of evidence in the Rhoden investigation was being stored.

[RELATED: Prosecutor says evidence 'virtually useless' in Pike Co. murders]

Hours after those reports aired, we found Sheriff Reader replacing locks and chains on two gates on the outside of the Rhoden evidence warehouse.

We also saw Reader hanging 'No Trespassing' signs up on one of the gates.

The Pike County spending records on the Rhoden investigation reached $204,771.15, according to the expense records provided by the Pike County sheriff.

AG'S OFFICE: "unable to identify"

"However, because our office does not organize expense records by case, we are unable to identify all itemized expenditures/invoices related to the Pike County investigation," Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine wrote in an Oct. 4 letter to FOX19.

The letter was in response to an open records request filed with DeWine's public relations staff six weeks earlier.

In an August 23 formal records request, we asked DeWine for all spending on the Rhoden investigation.

That request specifically asked for, "All itemized expenditures and all invoices related to the investigation into the April 22 murder investigation out of Pike County."

We wanted to see what DeWine's office had spent between April 22 and August 23.

After weeks of waiting for DeWine's office to respond and provide those public records, DeWine spokesman, Dan Tierney, e-mailed FOX19 a letter, denying access to the AG's Rhoden investigation spending.

The letter claimed our request was "overly broad."

DeWine also went on to explain that his office isn't tracking its spending on the Rhoden case in a way the public could request that information.

DeWine's letter went on to explain that the public could never know the accounting for taxpayer dollars spent on any investigation or prosecution inside the attorney general's office because DeWine's office "doesn't organize expense records by case," the Oct. 4 letter explained.

What DeWine did send was 18 pages of "General Travel and Expense" records from three of his staffers.

Those three staffers were paid for trips they drove to Pike County in their personal vehicles, to and from their homes and Columbus as part of work on the Rhoden investigation.

Those records, DeWine wrote, were gathered "as a courtesy" to our open records request.

Those records showed $2,600 in travel reimbursements to the three DeWine staffers.

The records also showed only one staffer had been in Pike County since May. The employee, Stephen Schumaker, was reimbursed $2,133.04 between April 22 and August 22.

The travel records provided by DeWine's office show only one DeWine staffer had been in Pike County since May 12.

DeWine did not provide any other spending records to FOX19 after the Oct. 4 denial letter.

But, in a June 22 interview with DeWine, he told FOX19 that compiling what his office had spent on the Rhoden investigation would not be a problem.

When asked if he could put a figure on the Rhoden investigation spending at that time, DeWine responded: "We certainly could figure out the cost. I have not done so."

DeWine never provided any spending figures, which prompted the August 23 open records request from FOX19.

"There is certainly a cost connected with it," DeWine explained in the June 22 interview. "The people we have who are working on the case are state employees, they would be doing something.

"What you do have is certainly some overtime. For example, when the sheriff first called us we sent people to the crime scene. I think we had 10 or 11 different people who were working on the four crime scenes," DeWine said during that June 22 interview.

"Our folks got there, I think, about 11 o'clock in the morning and they were still there and just finishing up at five or six o'clock the next morning. Same people, long days," DeWine explained. "Certainly they had overtime and there'll be other people who'll have overtime, as well."

But, in that Oct. 4 denial letter to FOX19, DeWine said he had no way of tracking that spending and could not provide it in response to the open records request we filed in August.

In closing the Oct. 4 letter, DeWine suggested FOX19 "revise" the August 23 request so the attorney general's office could "identify the records you seek based on the manner in which public records are organized and maintained."

"I DON'T THINK YOU'RE GETTING THE FULL ANSWER"

The man most Cincinnati media outlets call upon when a question of access to public records arise is Jack Greiner.

He is one of the most well-known first amendment attorneys in the state.

"I don't think you're getting the full answer," Greiner concluded when we showed him DeWine's Oct. 4 letter denying access to the Rhoden spending records.

"It just doesn't seem to me to be an extraordinary request," Greiner said after looking over our August 23 open records request to DeWine's office, a request DeWine determined was "overly broad."

"I'm having a hard time understanding that," Greiner said.

"They call it accounting for a reason. You account for the dollars you've spent," Greiner said, responding to the attorney general's office's position that it cannot account for the spending on the Rhoden investigation.

"It seems to me that what the attorney general had said here is, they're incapable of doing that. They don't keep records in a manner that would allow them to do that," Greiner said.

"If there's no tracking of this information at all, that raises some questions. If there's tracking of the information, but when the public makes a legitimate request for the tracking documents and they can't be provided, it's just as bad. It's as if they don't exist," Greiner said.

"If this is standard operating procedure for the Attorney General's Office, I think somebody ought to take a look at that and really ask some hard questions," Greiner added.

We asked State Auditor David Yost's office whether DeWine was required to maintain an accounting of spending on each investigation performed by his office.

In an Oct. 6 e-mail, Yost Communications Director Benjamin Marrison wrote: "We are unaware of any provision in state law that requires a detailed accounting be created or maintained for criminal investigations by the attorney general or any other law enforcement personnel."

The opinion did not include any indications that Ohio law would prevent law enforcement from keeping detailed accounting for spending.

That's not something that helps the public track how law enforcement is spending tax dollars, according to Greiner.

"We might want to know how much time, money and other resources is put against an investigation so that we can assess whether it's being done efficiently and effectively and whether tax dollars are being spent wisely," he said.

"The idea of the public records act isn't just that public offices maintain a record of what they're doing. It's so the public can inspect them," he said.

"At the end of the day, the public's still in the dark."

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