WILMINGTON, Ohio - Blanchester Police Chief Richard Payton mishandled the case of a missing Blanchester woman from the start, then warned the prime suspect and destroyed or concealed evidence, according to charges against him.
Chief Payton, suspended from the post he's held for 10 years, surrendered Tuesday morning to Clinton County sheriff's deputies. He was released on bail after pleading not guilty to three felony counts of obstructing justice and one misdemeanor count of dereliction of duty in the Carrie Culberson case.
A Clinton County grand jury returned the indictment Monday. Vincent Doan, 25, of Blanchester was convicted Aug. 7 of the kidnapping and murder of Ms. Culberson, his former girlfriend. The 22-year-old disappeared from Blanchester late Aug. 28, 1996, after witnesses say they saw Mr. Doan hitting her. Her body and car have not been found.
Prosecutors say Chief Payton did not act appropriately in the case, especially during the roughly five days between Ms. Culberson's family reporting her missing and the case being turned over to the Clinton County Sheriff's Office.
The dereliction charge is for "basically not doing anything" in the early stages of the investigation, said Rick Moyer, a Clinton County assistant prosecutor.
"A missing girl, a violent background with her boyfriend, and you're told the boyfriend threatened the girl a few days before - and you do nothing," Mr. Moyer said. "When you work the case, you just realize that basic things that needed to be done weren't there, the basic investigative process."
Chief Payton, a 25-year police veteran, "intends vigorously to defend himself on these charges," said his attorney, Jerry Bryant of Wilmington.
Mr. Bryant said prosecutors "have to look at the assets and expertise of small police forces." The village has six full-time officers.
"Quite honestly, (Blanchester police) don't have that kind of expertise. This was a major crime. The question is, did they act accordingly?" Mr. Bryant said.
Debra Culberson, Carrie's mother, remembers well the frustration she felt over what she saw as lack of effort by local police.
"I wanted them to get out and look for Carrie," she said Tuesday. "At the time, that was my hope, that (Mr. Doan) was holding her." Prosecutors would not give details behind the obstruction of justice charges.
The indictment says Chief Payton knew or had reason to think Mr. Doan was involved in Ms. Culberson's disappearance, yet provided him with a "means of avoiding discovery or apprehension."
Chief Payton also, according to the indictment, warned Mr. Doan "of impending discovery or apprehension," and did "destroy or conceal physical evidence of the crime."
"We believe through his actions that he slowed down the investigative process," Mr. Moyer said.
The same grand jury also indicted Lawrence Baker, 53, Mr. Doan's father, on two counts of obstructing justice and one count of tampering with evidence. Mr. Baker, arrested Monday, remained in the Clinton County Jail without bond Tuesday.
A third indictment is thought to be for Tracey Baker, Mr. Doan's half brother, who prosecutors say also helped Mr. Doan cover up the crime. Tracey Baker, 33, a long-distance truck driver, is working out of town, family members said.
Blanchester Sgt. William Wells became acting chief Monday evening. Village council plans to meet Thursday to decide whether to pay Chief Payton during the suspension, Mayor Harry Brumbaugh said.
'He's been an officer all his adult life," Mr. Bryant said. "The indictment will severely adversely affect his future. He has no plans to quit."
The chief's indictment brings more negative attention to the Clinton County village of about 3,000 people, on Ohio 28 about 20 miles east of Interstate 275. Residents say the grand jury's action is startling against a police chief they considered to be doing an adequate job.
"I'm surprised that he got himself into that situation," said Bob Haines, 55, an antiques store owner and former council member.
"He's not a bad guy. He's not a hard worker, but he is an intelligent guy and knows what to do.
"It's pretty sad. People think it's a terrible situation, and people want to see this cleared up."