I-Team: State officials investigate after jail blueprints appear on Ashtabula GOP website

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ASHTABULA COUNTY, Ohio (WJW) – The FOX 8 I-Team has learned that agents with the Bureau of Criminal Investigation are looking into whether any laws were violated after blue prints of the Ashtabula County Jail appeared on the county’s GOP website.

“We received notice from BCI last night and we are cooperating,” Ashtabula County Republican Chairman Charlie Frye told the FOX 8 I-Team.

He said the blueprints were put on the website to inform the public about issues at the county facility. He said the blue prints were taken off the website after the sheriff asked they be removed, citing security concerns.

Ashtabula Sheriff Bill Johnson, a Democrat, is facing Republican candidate Bill Niemi in the November election.

“In looking at it, it was a publicly disseminated document for years, at least the last five years and there is record of this record bring put out by the sheriff’s department,” Frye said.

Frye sent a copy of the record to the I-Team, which included a report and the blue prints. It appears it was sent to about 23 people in April 2016 by the jail administrator.

“At that point many different offices handed this document out to private citizens and the press,” Frye said. “The whole point of contention is that if Billy is claiming the document was not public he should have expressed it on the documents. He did not. Blueprints may or may not be a public record according to ORC 149.433. It is up to the public entity to decide this. In this case it was the sheriff, and he decided years ago it was not.”

The sheriff strongly disagreed. He said that report was a facility evaluation sent to a select few that were part of a committee looking at the jail.

“This was not put out to the public,” the sheriff said. “There are definite security issues with putting the blueprints of a jail out on a website. They can say anything they want about me that goes with the territory when you are an elected official. They can say what they want, but they definitely crossed the line by putting this out there, and for what reason, I can’t answer that.”

Johnson said when he saw the blueprints on the website he contacted the county prosecutor. The county prosecutor then contacted BCI and asked for an investigation.

BCI officials declined to discuss the matter, saying they cannot confirm or deny an ongoing investigation. They did release a copy of the letter sent by the county prosecutor asking for the investigation.

“I think they jeopardized the safety of everybody that comes to this complex,” Johnson said. “They also jeopardized the safety of anybody that’s in the  jail and  he employees. I don’t think that’s right.”

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