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"There's no special treatment" - Sheriff Oestreich defends against allegations

As the Stark County election looms, multiple sources have come forward with information which paints the Stark County Sheriff's Department as a toxic, retaliatory and predatory work environment, rife with mismanagement and a "good ol' boys" leade...

"There are kids in this community that have such potential, and drugs destroy that," Sheriff Oestreich said while addressing those in attendance during the launch of Project Stand-Up. James B. Miller, Jr. / The Dickinson Press
Stark County Sheriff Terry Oestreich addresses citizens during a town hall. James B. Miller, Jr. / The Dickinson Press

As the Stark County election looms, multiple sources have come forward with information which paints the Stark County Sheriff's Department as a toxic, retaliatory and predatory work environment, rife with mismanagement and a "good ol' boys" leadership system.

Stark County Sheriff Terry Oestreich's biggest challenger, Sgt. Corey Lee, previously stated that the sheriff's department's turnover rate was 86 percent.

Two recently-terminated deputies, Ray Kaylor and Ben Jarrett, spoke with The Press about the environment within the department.

Jarrett was fired in late 2017 for "not being truthful" and "intimidating a teacher" according to Oestreich, while Kaylor was terminated this past month for "violating a policy" in his "divisive" remarks.

The allegations raised by the two former deputies and other sources close to the sheriff's department point to a hostile work environment being responsible for high turnover rates within the department.

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"We've just lost so many good guys because of his management style," Kaylor said. "He is micromanaging and controlling. He's a bully! One of the main reasons I think he fired me is because he wanted to send a message to the rest of the staff of, 'shut your mouth or else.' Everyone knows my history with him and so everyone is going to be like, 'well, if he's going to fire Ray what the hell is he going to do to me?'"

Kaylor pointed out that in his own experience in law enforcement, he had never seen such dysfunction.

"This was my third department that I've worked in. I spent 13 years in California, nine in Wyoming and almost eight up here. This is the most dysfunctional department I've ever worked in and I've got over 30 years in corrections and law enforcement at this point," Kaylor said. "Terry has never been a manager or supervisor his entire career and just mismanages people. I've been a sergeant, lieutenant, a captain and was a major under Terry for two-and-half years."

Responding to the high turnover rate, Oestreich said the department is no different than other agencies in the state.

"It's not just the sheriff's office. You look at other agencies in the state and there are job openings throughout," Oestreich said. "Young officers are looking to get their two years of experience and move on to other departments."

The former deputies both agree that the response of Oestreich regarding the high turnover rate is demonstrably inaccurate.

They claim that "young guys not making the cut" is an old excuse and those being terminated or leaving the department are seasoned veterans with a wealth of law enforcement experience.

"Guys being pushed out of the department are vets who are raising concerns on the mismanagement by senior leadership," Kaylor said. "It's his management style."

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Jarrett echoed these sentiments.

"The sheriff department is a retaliatory environment," Jarrett said. "There's a lack of trust from the administration. It seems they don't trust any of the patrol deputies ... Terry makes statements regarding honesty, accountability, transparency, but there's no transparency when it comes to him. The administration is basically staffed at the upper echelons with his friends-people who will do his bidding regardless."

Among the most serious allegations levied against the department and its leadership surround safety concerns.

"Funding has been cut in an effort to appear like Terry is good with money," Jarrett said. "We are down three people on the drug task force and he's returned over $200,000 of the budget back to the county."

The chief concern with the budgetary discretion stems from purchases that slightly improve performance at the risk of decreasing deputy safety.

"When I was hired, the standard vest that I wore was level 3 protection. Currently they're purchasing and issuing level 2 vests. They're less protective and cheaper. We have deputies wearing ill-fitting uniforms," Jarrett said. "But, there's a $30,000 side-by-side six-seater utility task vehicle that sits in the garage. It's been used in the Roughrider Days Parade, the Taylor Horsefest Parade and the rodeo once. It's $30,000 for something that sits in the garage. Never once has the sheriff's department had a need for it."

Responding to accusations of budgetary mismanagement, Oestreich said the reduction in vest levels was a "comfort" issue and that the UTV provided better access off-road in inclement weather.

"It's got wheels and tracks," Oestreich said. "We went for the side-by-side instead of trying to put tracks on one of our ATV's because we felt it was ... harder for our vehicles. With the side-by-side, we have greater access versus our patrol vehicles."

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When pressed on an example of a call where the vehicle was "useful," Oestreich could not recall one.

Further allegations raised by former deputies and those close to the department included a system of punitive corrective action targeting those who do not toe the line.

"(Kaylor and I) were both accused of something, and under the guise of a policy violation, we were both terminated. Ron VanDoorne (the department's school resource officer) goes ballistic and hits the ball out of the park on the (expletive) he pulled, gets a two-day suspension," Jarrett said, referring to a May incident.

In dash camera footage obtained by the Press, School Resource Officer and VanDoorne can be seen hurling insults and degrading Dickinson Police Department officers who were responding to his residence. In the video, VanDoorne in an exchange with a Dickinson Police Officer states, "Do you know who I am?" before ordering the officers to "take these (expletive) cuffs off."

For these infractions, VanDoorne was not criminally charged. After the incident, VanDoorne was given a two-day suspension and forced to undergo alcohol evaluations before returning to duty, where he remains.

When asked if VanDoorne received special treatment compared to others within the department, Oestreich replied "There are people who think that, but he is not."

The two former deputies disagreed with Oestreich's assessment of the situation.

"It's a huge double-standard," Jarrett said.

The final allegation raised against Oestreich is that his campaign has been improperly using law enforcement systems in an effort to hurt his opponent in the election, and that information attained through this means and other avenues were being passed to a convicted felon to disseminate.

Speaking on the record, Sheriff Oestreich acknowledged that his campaign held close ties with the convicted felon in question, saying that the individual "cared deeply about the sheriff's race."

The individual in question recently pleaded guilty to multiple Class B felonies in Stark County.

"He's been to my house. He's offered to help in my campaign," Oestreich said. "But he understands that there's no special treatment."

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