Wednesday, June 16, 1999

Drug chief spared DUI conviction

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        LEBANON — The head of the Warren County Drug Task Force was spared a drunken-driving conviction Tuesday when he pleaded guilty to a reduced charge.

        County officials next will decide whether the incident will cost Sgt. John Pennington his position

        Sgt. Pennington, 50, a Lebanon police officer assigned to the task force, pleaded guilty in Lebanon Municipal Court to a charge of reckless operation.

        The plea agreement was struck minutes before Sgt. Pennington was set to go on trial on charges of drunken driving and failing to drive in marked lanes. The latter charge was dismissed.

        The charges stem from Sgt. Pennington's arrest April 28 at 4:49 a.m. when a state trooper noticed a 1994 Honda Accord weaving on Ohio 63 at Markey Road in Turtlecreek Township.

        Sgt. Pennington was driving a county car and was alone at the time.

        According to court records, the 22-year police veteran refused a Breathalyzer test when the trooper took him to the Ohio State Highway Patrol's Lebanon post.

        Tuesday, visiting Judge Judge James Ruppert, of Franklin, fined Sgt. Penning ton $250, ordered him to attend an alcohol intervention program and suspended his driver's license for six months.

        Sgt. Pennington is permitted to drive for his job with the task force, which operates out of the Warren County Prosecutor's Office.

        Sgt. Pennington declined to comment after the hearing, but the special prosecutor on the case said the outcome was fair.

        “You don't want him treated any different than anyone else, but no harsher either. He was a police officer for 20 some years and he had no prior DUIs,” said Dexter Bastin, an attorney from Clermont County.

        Barred from any field work with the task force since his arrest, Sgt. Pennington remains on desk duty until the task-force policy board decides if he should stay on as the agency's coordinator.

        “All incidents like this are reviewed. Beyond that there is no absolute policy one way or the other. We will take all things into consideration,” said Prosecutor Tim Oliver, a member of the board.

        Other board members include Sheriff Tom Ariss and police chiefs from Lebanon, Franklin, Clearcreek Township, Springboro and Mason. Mr. Oliver did not know how soon the policy board would meet.

        Lebanon city officials also are reviewing the incident to determine if Sgt. Pennington violated department policies and procedures and whether he should be disciplined.

        That decision is expected in about two weeks, Police Chief Ken Burns said.


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