WILLIAMS COUNTY, Ohio — Williams County Sheriff Steven Towns was charged with two additional misdemeanor offenses on Tuesday.
Sheriff Towns now faces five misdemeanor charges stemming from his alleged disclosure of confidential child abuse reports online.
“We were shocked to see video evidence of the sheriff improperly disclosing the same kind of confidential child abuse information that led us to file criminal charges against him two months ago,” Special Prosecutor Mark R. Weaver said. “As we said previously, a sheriff has the right to criticize other government officials, but as he well knows, it’s a crime to disclose these confidential reports.”
Ohio law requires many professionals such as school employees, children service workers and most medical personnel to report suspected child abuse. These reports are confidential by law, to both shield the identity of child victims and protect those who come forward with information about potential abuse.
The criminal complaint, filed in Bryan Municipal Court, alleges that on October 19, 2018, Sheriff Towns posted hundreds of pages of information to the Williams County Sheriff’s website and Facebook page. Included in that release were at least two confidential reports of suspected child abuse made by medical professionals. In addition, at least one child victim was illegally identified in the internet posting made by the sheriff.
Back in June, special prosecutors charged Towns with one count of improperly disclosing confidential information in violation of R.C. 102.03 (a first-degree misdemeanor) and two counts of improperly releasing child abuse reports in violation of R.C. 2151.421 (both fourth-degree misdemeanors).
In addition to those previous charges, Sheriff Towns has now been charged with one count of improperly disclosing confidential information in violation of R.C. 102.03 (a first-degree misdemeanor) and one count of improperly releasing child abuse reports in violation of R.C. 2151.421 (a fourth-degree misdemeanor). With these new charges, Towns is now facing a total of five misdemeanor charges. If convicted, Towns faces a maximum possible sentence of 14 months in jail and a fine of $2,500.
The prosecution is being handled by Special Williams County Prosecutor and Special Bryan City Attorney Mark R. Weaver as well as Assistant Special Prosecutor Ryan Stubenrauch. Both special prosecutors have served in similar roles in at least a dozen Ohio counties. The investigation was conducted by the Ohio Attorney General’s Bureau of Criminal Investigation.
All defendants, including Towns, are presumed innocent until proven guilty. The visiting judge on the case announced that he intends to hear these charges (along with the previous charges) at a jury trial beginning Monday November 4, 2019.