A former Ohio State Highway Patrol trooper now charged with sex crimes was not disciplined following an internal investigation into a 2015 traffic stop and search of a woman that later led to criminal charges.
Christopher Ward, 44, is charged with two counts of gross sexual imposition and a single count of sexual imposition, court records show.
“Ward was not able to clearly articulate the type of search conducted to our investigators,” said OSHP spokesperson Lt. Robert Sellers. “Training in lieu of discipline was conducted to ensure division policies are followed.”
That same traffic stop, which happened on U.S. 35 in Montgomery County Jan. 17 2015, ultimately led to the indictment by a Preble County grand jury earlier this month.
The charges stem from two incidents, the January 2015 traffic stop, and another while he was off duty involving a child last March, investigators said.
The investigation into the allegations against Ward kicked off following a referral from Preble County Children’s Services. The Ohio Attorney General’s Office then took over the investigation from there, after the Preble County Sheriff’s Office requested assistance.
Prior to the Ohio Attorney General’s Office’s involvement in the case, the state patrol’s administrative investigation into the 2015 traffic stop was not presented to any local, state or federal prosecutor’s for consideration of charges, Sellers said.
Sellers said the patrol is unable to answer why Ward was not given discipline for the 2015 traffic stop, when a grand jury was able to return a criminal indictment against the Preble County man.
“I do not know what evidence or testimony was provided by investigators to secure an indictment,” Sellers said.
Ward was fired by the patrol Feb. 13 for conduct unbecoming of an officer, according to a termination notice.
“We’re looking forward to the opportunity to exercise Chris’ due process rights,” Ward’s attorney Steven Hobbs previously told News Center 7’s John Bedell.
Ward filed a grievance against the patrol following his firing last week.
According to Ohio State Highway Patrol rules, a member of the patrol can be charged with conduct unbecoming of an officer “for conduct, on or off duty, that may bring discredit to the division and/or of its members or employees.”
“A member shall not engage in any conduct which could reasonably be expected to adversely affect the public’s respect, confidence, or trust for Ohio state highway patrol troopers and/or the division,” the rules also read.
A trooper also can be found in violation of the same rule “for committing any crime, offense or violation of the laws of the United States, the state of Ohio, or any municipality.”
Ward has pleaded not guilty to the sex crimes he was indicted on.
Ward has been the subject of at least three administrative investigations by the highway patrol, prior to his firing last Wednesday.
In January 2014, Ward pulled over a car stolen from North Carolina in Eaton.
Ward contacted the owner and told her he’d pay for the car to be towed if she handed over the title to the vehicle to him.
Internal investigation documents say the owner didn’t want the car anymore, because of its condition and because she didn’t want to travel from North Carolina to Ohio to come get it.
The documents also show the Preble County Prosecutor’s Office declined felony charges in the case and Eaton Municipal Court prosecutors declined to review it citing a conflict of interest and asked the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation to look into it.
Ward ultimately was convicted on a certificate of title violation and paid $170 in fines and court costs, records show.
An internal investigation by the OSHP found Ward “converted a recovered stolen car into personal use,” a violation of OHSP’s rule of conduct unbecoming of an officer, the documents read.
The patrol’s director thought Ward getting terminated was appropriate, but the documents News Center 7 obtained said the patrol decided to let Ward keep his job in exchange for a 5-day suspension and a “last chance agreement” to change his behavior. The “last chance agreement” was good for two years.
The patrol said there was not any written or electronic documentation discussing Ward’s “last chance agreement,” when considering whether punishment was warranted for the January 2015 traffic stop that led to the indictment.
A third internal investigation was launched involving Ward in April 2015, where he ultimately was found to have “displayed operational deficiencies when he engaged in an improper search of a female and failed to utilize his in-car video system properly,” records read.
Ward is scheduled back in Preble County Court March 28.