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Silence is broken on alleged threats

More information into what allegedly happened Tuesday, August 28, between Ironton city councilman Bob Vaughn, council candidate James Ridgeway and city police officer Sgt.

Thursday, September 20, 2001

More information into what allegedly happened Tuesday, August 28, between Ironton city councilman Bob Vaughn, council candidate James Ridgeway and city police officer Sgt. Lon Hilton has become available from the two men who have declined to comment on the matter since it occurred.

Prior to this week, Vaughn and Ridgeway have denied requests to speak on the matter. On Tuesday, the two men decided to speak out on what happened, citing that it is important for members of the community to know some of the information about their side of the incident.

Both men refused to answer some questions because the incident could yield a criminal case. Both men said they prefer to keep some information for the courts. Ridgeway added to let other information "come out when it comes out."

Vaughn and Ridgeway have both filed affidavits which were sent to the county’s Prosecuting Attorney’s office.

On the night the alleged incident occurred, Vaughn said he was at home working on his Web site with Ridgeway when they received a call from the Ridgeway residence located at 1744 Kevin Street in the city’s North end. The caller said Hilton was outside the house and wanted to speak to Ridgeway. Vaughn said, "since I had picked Jim up earlier, I drove him home."

The two arrived at the Ridgeway house at 11:15 p.m., Vaughn said. "I found Sgt. Hilton’s police cruiser blocking the road," Vaughn said, adding he parked his vehicle and walked up to Hilton who was talking to "members of the Ridgeway household."

In the press release, Vaughn states the "conversation immediately turned confrontational," but in an interview with the council at the Tribune office, Ridgeway said the situation wasn’t argumentative, more along the lines of questioning.

Vaughn said Hilton then accused the two men of riding around town in a gray van filming city police officers at work. Vaughn said Hilton accused them of "trying to catch the police ‘doing something that they should not be doing.’"

Vaughn and Ridgeway said they have never been in a gray van filming the police, although both men have gained a reputation for using a video and digital camera for Vaughn’s website. Ridgeway also carries a video camera to the city council meetings. Neither of the men own a gray van they confirmed. Vaughn said Hilton did not believe them and would find out "the truth."

Vaughn said, "Sgt. Hilton said that if he caught us out filming him that he will ‘put a gun to our heads.’"

Later in the conversation, Vaughn said, Hilton became more detailed with his threat. Vaughn said "Sgt. Hilton stated that if he caught us out ‘snooping’ at 4 a.m., that he would ‘take us to the river and put a gun to our head and no one will ever know what happened.’"

The confrontation, according to Vaughn, ended at about 2:55 a.m.

Vaughn and Ridgeway both confirmed they did not immediately contact the city police about the incident. The confrontation ended early Wednesday morning but the city wasn’t contacted until Friday. So what happened in the days between?

Ridgeway and Vaughn would confirm they called the FBI and other law enforcement agencies. The feds, Vaughn said, told him to contact the city police. Neither men would confirm what other police agencies they spoke with. Later in the interview, Vaughn did say he had spoken to the Lawrence County Sheriff’s Department and again was told to wait until the city was done with its investigation.

Ridgeway and Vaughn said they feel an outside agency should conduct the investigation so it will be without bias. "Who do you call when the police threaten you," Vaughn said. He added Hilton talked about the police being a "wolf pack" eluding to an idea that police officers stick together to protect one another.

The city has conducted the investigation in-house, following rules outlined by not only the Ohio Revised Code, but the contract the city has with the Fraternal Order of Police. City administrators have also followed the time guidelines established by the FOP contract. Hilton was placed on administrative leave the same day Ironton officials learned of the incident.

Vaughn and Ridgeway said they fear for their lives. Vaughn said Hilton admitted to having a bad temper and feel since this situation has become public, he is more dangerous. Both men state, however, they have not had contact with Hilton since the incident.

Both men also said the incident has affected their lives. Vaughn was absent from last Thursday’s council meeting, citing the incident with Hilton as being the reason.

When asked what it would take to bring an end to the ordeal, both men state Hilton should no longer be a police officer and they would like to see criminal charges brought against Hilton.

Both men question whether they can continue to live in the city because of fear for their safety and the safety of their family.

Ridgeway and Vaughn also say the incident has also taken an additional emotional toll. Both men claim they were friends with Hilton. Ridgeway, who graduated from Ironton High School with the officer, said he and Hilton had been friends since childhood.

Now, the city’s investigation is in a wait-and-see situation. Hilton was tested at a facility in Akron, taking a test to determine whether or not he is fit for duty. The results of this test, Ironton Mayor Bob Cleary said in a previous interview, will determine the next course the city takes.

Hilton remains on administrative leave with pay.