Sheriff Davis resigns Monday; allegations of misuse of money
By DUSTIN ENSINGER
For The Sunbury News
Delaware County Sheriff Walter L. Davis III resigned Monday morning amid allegations that he misused taxpayer dollars while attending a 10-week FBI training academy in Quantico, Virginia, last year.
Davis came under fire after it was reported that the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigations was looking into his use of Furtherance of Justice (FOJ) Funds while on the trip.
Instead of allowing the investigation to run its course, Davis chose to step down, a decision that will allow him to avoid prosecution. But the deal Davis reached with Union County Prosecuting Attorney David Phillips, who was appointed as special prosecutor in the case, will ban him from holding elected office in the future.
“The sheriff agreed to resign from his position, withdraw from the November ballot and never hold elected office again,” Phillips said in a statement. “He will also repay to the county the money at issue and pay for any audit which may be required. In return, I have agreed to defer prosecution so long as Mr. Davis is in compliance with his agreement.”
The agreement allows Davis to keep his pension.
Records obtained by The Delaware Gazette show that Davis used FOJ funds to cover certain costs of a rendezvous in Arlington, Va., with a female deputy whom he supervises.
In a statement released by the sheriff’s office, Davis, who is married, acknowledged that he made a mistake but did not address the nature of his relationship with the female deputy, Janine Senanayake, saying it is a private matter.
“It is difficult to witness the negative publicity drawn to this office because of my actions,” he said. “I take full responsibility and will reimburse the county for the expenses that are in question.”
Davis, however, also said that there was a rush to judgement, both by the media and the Delaware County Republican Party, which stripped him of his endorsement last week.
“Is that the American way?” he asked during a Monday morning press conference at his attorney’s office. “I think it’s careless.”
But county GOP Chairman Bob Mann denied that the sheriff was not given an opportunity to tell his side of the story. Mann said that he spoke with Davis twice last week by phone with the intention of listening to Davis’ take on the situation. However, Davis instead wanted to meet in person this week. Mann also said that Davis, as a member of the GOP Central Committee, could have spoken on his own behalf during the party’s vote to rescind his endorsement. Davis did not attend the meeting.
The records obtained through a Freedom of Information request show that Dep. Janine Senanayake rented a room at the same Arlington, Virginia, hotel that Davis used to park his rental car at while he was at an FBI training program in Quantico, Virginia.
During the same time that Senanayake stayed at the hotel, Davis used FOJ funds to pay for parking, at least two meals, including two breakfast buffets at the hotel, a rental car and gas, the records show.
The hotel, the Mariott Crystal Gateway, is more than 30 miles away from Quantico, Va., and records show that Davis parked a rental car there from August 12, 2011 to August 14, 2011, the same period of time that Senanayake rented a room there.
Davis used the FOJ fund to pay $132 for a rental car, $10 in gas, $54 in parking fees and $86 for two meals over that time.
Davis said he will return $1,331, which includes the cost of two flights that are not in question.
“There are some funds in question,” he said. “I’m going above and beyond to make sure we own up to any mistakes we may have made.”
Davis has also reportedly been using a Westerville condominium to meet with Senanayake. The report included video showing both their vehicles parked near the condominium.
The Gazette obtained records showing the condominium, located at 77 Merlin Drive, is owned by Etta Sivier, another Delaware County Sheriff’s Office employee.
In January, the sheriff’s office announced that Sivier, a corrections officer, was promoted to the position of sergeant.
Senanayake, who has not been disciplined “at this time,” according to a sheriff’s office spokesperson, has been the focus of a similar investigation before.
Senanayake was fired from her previous job as a Perry Township police officer, where she was known as Janine England, after dashcam video was leaked showing her kissing and touching former Perry Township Police Chief Timothy Escola during a trip to Cincinnati to pick up a prisoner.
After being fired for the incident, Senanayake filed a discrimination complaint against the Perry Township Police Department alleging she was discriminated against when she was relieved of her duties. While she was fired, Escola was allowed to resign and keep his pension. The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ruled in her favor, finding that there was reason to believe that her firing may have been discriminatory. The case has not yet proceeded to U.S. District Court. Perry Township Law Director Charles Hall told the Canton Repository that the latest incident demonstrates a “pattern of conduct.” He plans to ask for a dismissal of the lawsuit.
Phillips said he was aware of Senanayake’s past when he struck the deal with Davis and does not believe that it should have played a role in his decision not to go after Davis’ pension.
“I’m aware of her history,” he said. “But what happened in another situation did not affect my decision.”
Delaware County Commissioner Dennis Stapleton said he was caught off guard by the sudden resignation.
“I was a little surprised that it happened as quickly as it did,” he said.
Stapleton, along with commissioners Ken O’Brien and Tommy Thompson voted Monday morning to name Captain Scott Vance as interim sheriff until the Delaware County Republican Party Central Committee can convene a meeting to select a permanent replacement. The central committee has 45 days to choose someone to fill the role.
Vance was chosen after a lengthy closed-door meeting because of his ability to lead and the fact that he is a Union County resident, effectively making him ineligible to hold the position long-term, the commissioners said.
“That was a big plus for me,” Stapleton said of the fact that Vance is strictly a temporary sheriff because of his residency.
Vance joined the sheriff’s office in 1995 and was promoted to captain in 2003.
“I look forward to leading our office through this transitional period,” Vance said in a statement. “Despite the temporary distractions of the past several days, we plan to continue focusing on best serving the citizens of our county.”
Two of the likely candidates to replace Davis are Delaware City Police Chief Russ Martin and City of Powell Police Chief Gary Vest.
But Vest said that he has no interest in the position at this time, and would highly recommend Martin for the post.
“I will not be putting my hat in the ring this time around,” he said.
Martin, who has served for 30 years in the Delaware City Police Department, acknowledged that he has heard from party members about filling the position.
“I’ve received several phone calls and I’m in the process of talking to a close circle of friends and deciding what’s best for the county and for my family,” he said.
Sources have also told The Gazette that Delaware County resident and Columbus Division of Police Cmdr. Kent Shafer is in the running to fill the position vacated by Davis. Schafer has spent more than 30 with the Columbus Police Division and is currently commander of the Division’s Strategic Response Bureau.
Thus far, only two people have expressed interest in the position, according to Mann. He declined to say who.
The party will first set a deadline for interested candidates to apply for the position. The party’s screening committee will then review the applications and set up interviews before picking a candidate by the middle of next month.
The investigation into Davis began in the Delaware County Prosecutor’s Office. The case was assigned to Phillips by Delaware County Judge Everett Krueger to avoid a conflict of interest.
Now that Davis has stepped aside, the sheriff’s office can return to business as usual, Phillips said.
“The cloud under which the sheriff’s office was operating because of these allegations clearly hampered the office’s ability to serve as an effective law enforcement agency,” he said. “The prompt resolution of this matter will enable the people of Delaware County to move on, and the sheriff’s office to regain the trust and confidence of the people which it deserves.”