Rome Twp. Property Owner Claims Lack Of Law Enforcement

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A Kilvert-area property owner complained Tuesday to the Athens County Commissioners about what he said is a lack of law enforcement in the area, and said he plans to file a discrimination complaint against the sheriff’s office with the U.S. Department of Justice.

However, a sheriff’s captain said he later had a productive telephone conversation with the man about what the sheriff’s office is doing regarding a number of theft cases.

Terry Wilkins of Columbus owns 172 acres in the Kilvert area that was his family’s farm, which his father lived on until his death. Wilkins said there have been repeated thefts from the property, with little action taken by the sheriff’s office.

“These thieves are known to everyone in the community,” Wilkins told the commissioners.

Last year, a tractor was stolen and a trailer was taken, cut up and sold for scrap. Wilkins said he confronted the person he believed responsible, and the tractor was returned.

According to Wilkins, the thief admitted to deputies that he took the tractor.

“Nothing ever happened,” Wilkins said, explaining that the thief was never charged.

Sheriff’s Capt. Bryan Cooper said there was no admission of guilt.

“It’s assumed who is doing it, and that assumption is probably right,” Cooper said, but “I’ve got to prove that.”

Wilkins said that recently a washer, dryer and stove were stolen from the house on the property, and an attempt was made to steal the furnace. Plumbing was damaged, which caused flooding. Wilkins said that a couple years ago someone burned down his antique barn, and that tools and metal items stored on the property have been stolen.

Patrick Thomas, who lives near Wilkins’ property, attended Tuesday’s meeting and said other neighbors also have been experiencing thefts.

“There probably isn’t an individual in that area who hasn’t been stolen from,” Wilkins said.

Wilkins also expressed concern about the potential for violence as owners attempt to protect their property.

“Bullets have been flying in that area. It’s just a question of when one is going to connect,” Wilkins said.

Wilkins, who is black, said residents of the area are predominately non-white, “and that may have something to do with” the lack of law enforcement. Wilkins said he intends to file a discrimination complaint with the U.S. Department of Justice.

The Messenger sought comment from Sheriff Patrick Kelly.

“That’s a ridiculous statement,” Sheriff Patrick Kelly said of Wilkins’ claim that discrimination could be impacting the investigation of crimes. “If he’s playing the race card, then that’s just a crazy thing to do.”

At the time The Messenger was interviewing Kelly, Cooper was on the phone with Wilkins.

Cooper said afterward that he felt it was a good conversation.

Cooper said the recent theft of appliances at the house is an active investigation.

“We’re still actively working that,” Cooper said.

He indicated that leads had run out on the tractor theft last year, but that investigators will take another look at that case.

The Messenger was unable to reach Wilkins to find out if he was satisfied by his conversation with Cooper and to find out if he still intends to file the discrimination complaint.

As Tuesday’s meeting with the commissioners was coming to an end, Commissioner Chris Chmiel told Wilkins, “I’m glad you came in and you are getting this on the record.”

Wilkins had indicated there has been some finger pointing between the sheriff’s office and prosecutor’s office regarding why charges have not been filed in the thefts. Commissioner President Lenny Eliason said he found that “troubling.”

Blackburn told The Messenger that no cases regarding the thefts have been presented to his office by the sheriff’s office.

Eliason asked Wilkins to attend next week’s commissioners meeting so that Kelly and County Prosecutor Keller Blackburn can be present.

“We’ll sit down and have a discussion,” Eliason said.

Kelly told The Messenger that he won’t be attending because he won’t discuss active cases in public. Blackburn said he will be out of town that day.

The commissioners postponed for another week a response to Kelly’s request to hire a new sheriff’s deputy. The department has had a vacancy for more than a year, and will be losing at least two deputies to retirement. Those deputies will be taking their accumulated vacation, which prompted Kelly to ask last week for funds to fill the vacant position immediately.