Ex-officer agrees to misdemeanor

Published 10:17 am Wednesday, February 18, 2009

A former Ironton police officer will plead guilty next week to a misdemeanor charge of falsification, thus avoiding a criminal trial on a felony charge.

Beth Rist’s decision to plead guilty came shortly after a pretrial conference Tuesday in Lawrence County Common Pleas Court.

Rist had initially pleaded innocent to a felony charge of tampering with evidence. She is accused of stopping Dolly Newcomb for a traffic violation but, upon finding Newcomb did not have insurance, allowed Newcomb’s daughter, Jamie Sparks, to take the ticket in place of her mother to prevent the mother from going to jail. When Sparks paid the ticket in Ironton Municipal Court, authorities discovered there was no insurance on the car and revoked Sparks’ driver’s license.

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Rist was fired as a result of the incident.

Lawrence County Prosecutor J.B. Collier Jr., said he intends to recommend Rist be placed on probation. She could have gotten up to five years in prison if she had been convicted of the felony charge.

During the pretrial conference, visiting Judge Fred Crow III had ruled against one motion her attorney, Warren Morford, presented and held off ruling on a second motion pending presentation of additional information.

Crow ruled in favor of Collier twice in two motions he had presented.

Morford had asked Crow to suppress Rist’s statement made to authorities during a city and state investigation into the matter.

He said state laws prohibit any statements made by police officers in a civil proceeding to be used against them in a criminal trial. These statements are sometimes referred to as Garity statements.

“The Garity statement was used against her in the BCI&I (Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation and Identification) investigation and then J.B. used it in making his decision whether or not to indict her,” Morford said.

But Collier countered that he had had numerous witnesses and did not need Rist’s statement and that his decision to take her case before the grand jury was based on the BCI&I report and not her statement to city officials.

Morford also argued Newcomb’s traffic ticket should also not be used in court.

“She (Sparks) paid the citation in Ironton Municipal Court,” Morford said. “Under traffic rules that is a complete admission of guilt. The state shouldn’t be allowed to come in and say there is anything improper. It is a moot point.”

But Crow contended that just because the woman paid the ticket doesn’t mean the ticket should have been written in the first place.

Collier had asked Crow to prohibit the defense from referring to any plea negotiations between him and Rist as part of their case during the trial.

Before Rist’s case was considered by the grand jury, he had first told Rist he would drop any further criminal action against her if she agreed not to sue the city and if she agreed not to file a grievance in an effort to get her job back.

Rist refused.

She and Morford have contended the negotiation was tantamount to a threat — and violates legal ethics.

Crow ruled such negotiations are common and are not illegal. Crow also sided with Collier in his motion to prohibit Morford from using Rist’s past problems with the city during the trial.

Rist, 35, a 13-year veteran of the department, had sued the city for sexual harassment several years ago. The case was settled out of court.

Morford said after the hearing that the plea agreement to a misdemeanor should not prevent Rist from seeking employment as a police officer in the future, though her future with the city is still in limbo.

Arbitration on her grievance against the city is pending.