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Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Ohio's Number 2 Top Highway Cop Retires Under Fire

Patrol's No. 2 retires
The Columbus Dispatch by Randy Ludlow - December 27, 2010
Lt. Col. Peyton Watts faced discipline

The second-in-command of the State Highway Patrol retired today while awaiting discipline for allegedly lying during an internal investigation of another officer. Lt. Col. Peyton Watts, 56, who was suspended with pay Dec. 13 following the release of a report by the state inspector general's office, retired effective today from his $120,536-a-year job, said Lt. Gary Lewis, patrol spokesman. A report released by Inspector General Thomas P. Charles found that Watts maintained inappropriate contact with an officer who came under investigation after he was discovered in his cruiser with a 16-year-old girl. Watts lied about his frequent telephone calls and personal friendship with former Staff Lt. Roger Norris in undermining patrol and criminal investigations and staining the patrol's integrity, the report concluded. The report and a Department of Public Safety investigation prompted Public Safety Director Thomas Stickrath to suspend Watts and begin disciplinary proceedings against the 33-year veteran. Watts' departure follows the resignation of former Col. David Dicken, who resigned as patrol superintendent effective Dec. 17 as Stickrath moved to discipline him for mishandling his duties. Dicken returned to his former job as a captain in the business services section. The next lieutenant colonel will be appointed under the auspices of Charles, who was named the next public-safety director by Gov.-elect John Kasich, and Maj. John Born, the next superintendent. Charles and Born begin their new duties on Jan. 10. Watts, who attended a disciplinary hearing a week ago today, had denied wrongdoing. A hearing officer had found cause to discipline Watts. Watts told investigators that he spoke with Norris by telephone only three or four times and denied that the two were close, despite widespread patrol knowledge of a friendship dating to 1987 and their days at the Zanesville post. Records show the men exchanged 94 calls between June 11 and Aug. 6, with 29 calls consisting of conversations of two to 41 minutes, often at key points of the investigation. Norris, 43, retired on Aug. 28 as patrol officials moved to fire him after investigating his on-duty meeting with the girl behind a building in rural Belmont County on June 8. A building caretaker who came across the cruiser told investigators that Norris was clad in a T-shirt but not wearing his uniform shirt or gun belt, as required by patrol rules. He did not see any illicit activity. Norris denied any wrongdoing. He faces a criminal investigation.

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