Archived Story

Officers allegedly targeted travelers

Published 10:00am Friday, May 6, 2011

Former policemen accused of more than 10 incidents

Two former Hanging Rock Police Officers targeted out-of-town travelers when they allegedly pocketed fines for traffic violation tickets, according to information released by the Lawrence County Sheriff’s office following a nearly six-month investigation.

Former Sgt. Ronald E. Blanton, 28, of Franklin Furnace, and Thomas S. Trent Jr., 22, of Portsmouth, are both charged with tampering with evidence and theft in office.

Blanton pleaded not guilty to the charges Wednesday in Lawrence County Common Pleas Court. Trent is scheduled to be arraigned May 18.

Blanton most recently worked as an officer for the Coal Grove Police Department, but has resigned, according to Mayor Larry McDaniel. Trent was terminated from the Hanging Rock Police Department, said Police Chief Chris Steed.

According to a prepared statement from the sheriff’s office, the investigation that led to the those charges began Nov. 18, 2010, when Blanton and Trent, who were riding together in a marked Hanging Rock Police Department vehicle, allegedly stopped a woman from Baltimore, Ohio, on U.S. 52 in the Village of Hanging Rock.

The officers allegedly told the woman her traffic ticket could be paid in cash.

“The female was upset about the situation and questioned the validity of the traffic stop because of paying cash alongside the road and not receiving a copy of the ticket from the officers,” the release states.

The woman filed a complaint about the incident with the Baltimore Police Department, which then contacted the Lawrence County Sheriff’s Office.

Sheriff Jeff Lawless and his staff then began an investigation in conjunction with investigators from the Lawrence County Prosecutor’s Office, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Bureau of Criminal Identification and Investigation.

According to the release, the investigation revealed that the Hanging Rock Police Department officers commonly collected fines alongside the road during traffic stops, a practice that has since changed, according to the release.

Steed said that he didn’t know the officers were collecting fines and that when the practice was brought to his attention, he put a stop to it.

“Once I was aware of the fact, I addressed it,” Steed said. “No cash payments, no nothing along the roadside.”

Investigators contend that the woman’s ticket and money had not been turned into the Village of Hanging Rock.

“Through the investigation, both officers were interviewed and initially denied the allegations and the ticket from the Nov. 18, 2010, traffic stop mysteriously appeared with fine money,” according to the release.

According to the release, both Blanton and Trent admitted to taking the cash, not turning in the ticket and keeping the money.

The investigation also revealed that the woman’s traffic stop was not a lone incident and that approximately 10 similar instances had occurred, Lawrence County Sheriff’s Office Detective Aaron Bollinger said. The two were splitting the money, he added.

The total amount taken has not been determined because the costs of tickets vary, Bollinger said.

Steed said the initial ticket in question was for $140.

The officers admitted to hiding the ticket to mislead investigators, according to the release.

The woman who originally complained about the ticket testified before a Lawrence County Grand Jury, which indicted the two men late last month, Lawless said.

“She wanted to see it through,” he said. “We’re thankful that she brought it to our attention. (If not) how long could it have gone on?”

The sheriff commended investigators for their work, saying that it is never easy to investigate “one of your own.”

“We never want to see anything like this happen,” Bollinger added. “It just gives us a black eye in law enforcement.”

A phone call and an email to Blanton’s attorney, Richard Wolfson, were not returned as of press time. Efforts to reach Trent were unsuccessful. It is unclear whether or not he has hired an attorney at this time.

  • marriedwithkids

    First of all everyone needs to realize that it is a money making scheme for these villages. Actually thats all anything is but these villages have a court ran by their mayor as the judge who for the most part has never had any college education to be a judge or preside over a court room. The mayor is also over the towns budget so you can see where this should be a conflict of interest but it has went on for a long time and i doubt its ever gonna change. The sherrifs office is pretty good at filling out reports for the insurance company to btw. Thats about all they ever do. I have had friends that were village police officers and lawrence county deputies but sometimes you really have to call it like it is. More people who commit crimes like speeding or headlight out or whatever your major violation it is the more money for the budget that these towns get. I understand dont do the crime but cant we come up with something better than a fine like points against your liscense and after so many they are revoked then you can pay a fine to get them back or something to stop the greed of these people. The osp is no different (although more professional) every fine they hand out has to be split with the rest of the state government agencies except for SEAT BELT tickets. From what i understand (and i could be wrong as my wife says i usually am) all of the fine you pay for a seat belt ticket stays in the osp budget. Which is why you will get a warning for speeding and a ticket for a seatbelt. MONEY MONEY MONEY

    (Report comment)

  • newandoldbefiefs

    Before anyone wishes to publicly denounce an entire agency for their incompetence, they really should learn how to spell the word. And they should also be aware of that agency’s jurisdiction. Though they might have the words ” Ohio” and “State” in their name, I assure you that they are NOT state police. The authority to investigate the matter went to the proper authorities: The Lawrence Co. Sheriff’s Office and the FBI. Had it fallen under the jurisdiction of the OSP, then they most assuredly would have investigated it. BTW…..call it what you will, speed trap or other….key element here is still speeding. If you get caught speeding then you have nobody to blame but yourself. Geez…..take some personal responsibility here!!!!

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  • BILLCO

    the speed limit in hanging rock is the same all over ohio i travel through there about every day, and run between 55-60 and have never been stoped for speeding. if you stay within 5 mi over the speed they don’t stop people. I think like the rest on here this go’s all the to the top. i paid two tickets for my son for driving with no license i paid 240.00 the first 85.00 the second, when he moved back from flordia i paid 900.00 more for the same tickets to get them off his record.

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  • mikehaney

    Shouldn’t this investigation go up the ladder and back “several” years?
    Am happy the FBI are involved, especially for the good police officers in our area.
    AAA has listed Hanging Rock, rt 52 as a speed trap for years. I wonder if mapquest avoids our area for the sake of travellers?
    This is a big black eye for Lawrence county and anyone in office that ignored this is also a conspirator.
    Footnote:Thanks to the Ohio highway patrol for watching rt 93 out of Ironton.

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  • Local_user

    I forgot to mention that a speed trap on the interstate loop around Cincinnati actually did get someone killed. It was the same situation I described in my first post. The locals would hit the brakes and the unsuspecting drivers behind them would sometimes crash into the rear of their car. When it caused a death Ohio was supposed to have made speed traps illegal. I guess Hanging Rock with their Hanging Judge must have missed that law. Maybe they should arrest themselves.

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  • Local_user

    Justice at last! Take that you money grubbing, license to steal, jerks in Hanging Rock! Now someone needs to prosecute the rest of the kangaroo court there so decent people can drive the highways without feat of having highway robbers steal their money. They aren’t making things safe. They are doing the exact opposite. I’ve seen many, many times where the locals will slow down and the out of town people will nearly ram them from behind because of the sudden change in speed. They are a disgrace to good government. This ain’t Mexico. Get the heck off the highway and stop stealing money.

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  • rambo

    This is a speed trap that needs to eliminated as well as the so called police chief that not only allows but must encourage this type of activity to go on. I also would blame the Ohio State Patrol that have been aware of this for many years but have done nothing about it. The Ohio State Patrol is supposed to be our elite patrol but this also gives them a black eye. If this continues this will need to be addressed at the state level and the ohio patrol will have to answer for there incompendence.

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    • REA

      First, 52 runs through Hanging Rock’s corporation limits, they have the duty & the right to patrol the highway. Second, if the Patrol knew about this practice, they would have investigated. Third, you spelled “incompetence” incorrectly.

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  • tencar

    Every one in Lawrence county knows that Hanging Rock is the biggest speed trap in the county. That is their only source of income. But why would they let this go on for six months while they were investigating it? In my opinion the village cops need to stay in the village and off the high way that runs through it. The tax payers that live there are paying them are not paying them to stop speeders on the highway they are paying them to protect their village. Leave the high way to the state boys and sheriff. If they are down on the high way stopping speeders how are they going to do what they are getting paid for in the village if someone really needs help?

    (Report comment)

  • deathdealer

    speed trap/ money pit

    (Report comment)

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