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'Dirty politics'?: Sexual harassment complaint at sheriff's office comes to light

Cary Ashby • Updated Oct 28, 2016 at 11:29 AM

A sexual harassment complaint in the Huron County Sheriff's Office that was resolved about five months ago has come to light, less than two weeks before the election.

“The allegation occurred in early 2014,” Sheriff Dane Howard said Thursday. “Keep in mind this allegation is from something that happened more than two years ago.

“One employee tried to hug another employee at a seminar,” he added. “This was not on-duty. The allegations were never proven to have occurred.”

“I think it’s important to state the independent investigator cleared the accused of any wrongdoing,” Howard said.

The accused employee declined to comment Thursday. The accuser couldn’t be reached for comment.

Both people remain employed with the sheriff’s office.

“And they're both doing a good job,” Howard said.

A Reflector reader tipped the newsroom about the complaint.

Howard said the timing of this sexual harassment complaint coming to light seems suspicious, given how close it is to the election. The sheriff also said he believes someone is trying to “shed negative light on me during the election.” He added it's an interesting to note the accuser filed it with the same Toledo attorney who handled personnel issues of “my opponent late last year.”

“Again, another coincidence,” Howard added. “This is another desperate attempt by the opposition and I believe the public will see this for what it is — dirty politics.”

In the Nov. 8 election for sheriff, Howard, a Democrat, faces Todd Corbin, a Republican and former deputy who now is a reserve officer with the Norwalk Police Department.

“I don’t know why he would say that,” Corbin said. “It sounds like he is trying to deflect it on me.”

In late November 2015, Howard fired Corbin because by law, Corbin couldn't work for the sheriff's office while attempting to seek his employer’s job.

Corbin said Thursday the sexual harassment case has nothing to do with the election and why he is running for sheriff. Corbin noted he hasn’t spoken to Howard about the complaint.

“As far as I'm concerned, it’s an inter-departmental issue,” Corbin said.

Once the accuser filed a formal complaint in April, Howard requested the Buckeye State Sheriff's Association have an independent investigator look into the allegations. The Stark County Sheriff’s Office was assigned to the case.

Chief Deputy John Campbell, in his findings, said the five allegations were either unfounded or “not sustained” with “insufficient evidence to either prove or disprove the allegation.” His report indicates there were no witnesses to one suspected incident and it was believed the accuser “misconstrued” a conversation, which “was taken completely out of context,” with another employee about the accused and accuser.

In May, Howard informed the employees of the outcome of Campbell's investigation.

“Both of them got a copy of the report,” the sheriff said.

The accuser told Howard about the suspected hugging incident shortly afterward, he said, but “she didn’t want to file a complaint at the time.” The sheriff said he has “no idea” why the employee declined to report it formally.

“She asked us to do nothing. We didn’t take any action at that time,” Howard explained. “All she said was, ‘He tried to hug me and it made me feel uncomfortable.’”

In April, the accuser “changed her mind and wanted an investigation,” he said.

“I don't know why the employee changed her mind,” the sheriff added.

After the formal complaint was filed, Howard said he made sure the the accused and accuser's rights were being protected. He said he told them not to have any contact with each other and stay as separate as possible.

“I didn’t seen any infractions of that directive,” the sheriff added. “This is a small office, so everybody works together.”

Howard said the complaint was trying and “disruptive” to his office shortly after it was filed, but noted “everything seems to be working out OK” now and there have been no further complaints from the accuser.

“Things have been peaceful the last few months,” Howard said.

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