An Ohio State police officer pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor count of child endangering last week in Fairfield County, located southeast of Franklin County.
The Fairfield County Sheriff’s Office SWAT team arrested Jason D. Henthorn, 35, of Lancaster on June 9.
Henthorn, who has a mixed performance record since joining OSU Police in 2000, was originally charged with gross sexual imposition involving a child younger than 13. The child who is the focus of the case is 6.
As part of his plea deal, the charges were lessened from a third-degree felony, which could have landed him in prison for five years, to a first-degree misdemeanor.
Judge Chris Martin of the Fairfield County Common Pleas Court sentenced Henthorn to 180 days in jail. Fifty-nine days of the sentence were suspended as part of the plea, but Henthorn is on probation for two years, “assuming he follows orders,” said Denise MacFadden, a Fairfield County prosecutor.
“He is not under electronic monitoring or house arrest,” but he has a curfew, she said.
Instead of fighting the charges in a court trial, which would have begun Tuesday, Henthorn decided to accept the plea deal because he didn’t want the child “to be forced to testify,” said his attorney, Jeremy Dodgion.
The plea deal was finalized out of court about two weeks before it went before the judge Friday, Dodgion said.
As part of the deal, Henthorn agreed to pay for any counseling the victim would seek.
OSU Police Chief Paul Denton said in an e-mail that his department has an ongoing Internal Affairs investigation into Henthorn. The investigation was “initiated immediately when criminal charges were filed.”
“Henthorn was relieved from duty when we learned of the serious allegations,” Denton said. “Until (the investigation) is concluded, he will remain relieved from duty and not return to work.”
Before joining OSU Police, Henthorn was a deputy with the Fairfield County Sheriff’s Office from 1996 to 2000.
According to an OSU Police personnel file, Henthorn received more than a dozen written commendations for his work, including his success apprehending a wanted individual, and serving as a field training officer.
Henthorn was on a crime scene team that won the department’s “team award” in 2006.
But Henthorn’s service record also includes a one-day suspension and other blemishes.
He received an oral reprimand Jan. 19 for missing his special duty assignment — OSU men’s basketball vs. Northwestern.
On Oct. 10, 2009, during the second half of the Wisconsin vs. OSU football game, Henthorn allowed two women on top of Morrill Tower while he was stationed on “sniper/observer” duty, according to the file.
In a police audio recording of an internal affairs officer interviewing Henthorn about the department violation — which was also described as a “homeland security” problem — Henthorn said he knew only one of the women, who had brought him food. He invited her to the roof “briefly just to see basically what it was like from up there,” he said. Henthorn did not have permission to allow the visitors on the roof.
Henthorn knew one of the women from a forensics course he helped teach at OSU. She was a student in one of those classes, and Henthorn helped arrange “ride-alongs” for her at the police department.
“I didn’t think I was doing anything wrong,” said Henthorn, who received a written reprimand for the incident.
In February 2006, he was suspended one day for failing to provide security for a dormitory by leaving “well before” his shift ended in July 2005 and because he did not report on time for a special duty assignment that September.
Dodgion said the prosecutor did not bring up any of Henthorn’s reprimands in court.
Lt. Gary Kennedy of the Fairfield County Sheriff’s Office said it is unlikely Henthorn has a future in law enforcement.
“I can say that he would not pass the hiring process,” Kennedy said. “It has to do with the misdemeanor, and he couldn’t lie about it because he would be administered a polygraph.”
Sgt. Shaun Laird of Columbus Police is the secretary of the Fraternal Order of Police’s Capital City Lodge No. 9, the union that represents police agencies in Franklin County.
He said FOP’s part in the investigation is to make sure Henthorn’s rights are upheld, not to give advice in OSU’s investigation.
Laird said he is not sure what the outcome of OSU’s internal investigation will be because “it’s really a case-by-case basis.”
However, Laird said that in cases such as Henthorn’s, when an original felony charge is plea-bargained to a misdemeanor, as opposed to an original charge of a misdemeanor, the likelihood of termination increases.
Dodgion said OSU Police should try to keep Henthorn on staff.
“We have a man here who has served 14 years in law enforcement with nearly no blemish on his record except for the Morrill Tower incident,” Dodgion said. “It will be unfortunate if he loses his job.”