Williams County Sheriff Steve Towns and his legal team attended a hearing in Bryan Municipal Court on Tuesday, regarding three misdemeanor charges he faces with regard to disclosing confidential information related to child abuse reports.
What he and his legal team walked out of court with were two additional misdemeanor charges, alleging that Towns shared some of the same information with an individual not related to the original complaints and investigations that were the source of documents Towns posted on his department’s website.
The original misdemeanor charges against Towns stem from his webpage posting of documents related to child abuse cases and other complaints his department has investigated that he alleges chronicles systematic and investigative failures of county family services agents.
Towns posted about 400 pages on his department’s website, with a link from the department’s Facebook page to the website. Documents posted also included complaints and investigative notes related to Bryan City Schools personnel.
The documents posted on the website were largely redacted, however, some redactions were missed and private information was available through the release.
The availability of the web postings lasted only hours, as the sheriff’s office cut the links to the documents and instead noted that anyone interested in the documents could request them through a Freedom of Information Act request.
Then and since, Towns has stated that his release of the documents was meant as a public service in order to inform the public about investigations that demand action, but aren’t getting any traction from special prosecutors that have been appointed to do so.
Initially, Towns had faced one count of improperly disclosing confidential information in violation of Ohio Revised Code 102.03 (a first-degree misdemeanor) and one count of improperly releasing child abuse reports in violation of ORC 2151.421 (a fourth-degree misdemeanor).
Tuesday afternoon special prosecutors added two more charges: another count of improperly disclosing confidential information and another count of improperly releasing child abuse reports.
The new misdemeanor charges, according to Special Williams County Prosecutor and Special Bryan City Attorney Mark R. Weaver, relate to a separate incident in which Towns is alleged to have shared specific elements of the original documents with a person in an interview room at the sheriff’s office. The conversation was recorded.
“We were shocked to see video evidence of the Sheriff improperly disclosing the same kind of confidential child abuse information that led us to file criminal charges against him two months ago,” Special Prosecutor Mark R. Weaver said in a statement to the media. “As we said previously, a sheriff has the right to criticize other government officials, but as he well knows, it’s a crime to disclose these confidential reports.”
Neither Towns or special prosecutors were specific about the nature of the conversation that Towns was recorded on, but Towns told The Bryan Times, “I will always help someone that comes to me. The truth will come out.”
While the charges against Towns are all misdemeanors, if convicted on these new charges, he faces a maximum possible sentence of 14 months in jail and a fine of $2,500.
Towns said he considers the charges against him a distraction from the real issue. Special prosecutors should be investigating the information within the 400 pages he released. Instead, he said, they are prosecuting someone who is trying to “give voice to the people who have suffered.”
All of the charges against Towns will be brought before a jury trial, which could last three days, beginning Monday, Nov. 4. The prosecution stated it has up to 14 people on their witness list.