The former Mayor of Aberdeen was found not guilty of charges of interfering with civil rights. Garland Renchen was indicted in April with one count of bribery and five counts of interfering with civil rights between Aug. 1 and Nov. 8, alleging he had used his position to persuade voters to vote for him in the November 2010 election. Renchen ran for an open seat on the Aberdeen Village Council in that election against Bernice Jones.
Renchen and Jones tied in that election, and Jones won the open seat due to a coin toss at the Brown County Board of Elections. Jones later stepped down from that position.
Brown County Prosecutor Jessica Little began Renchen's trial on Monday, Jan. 14 with the intent to prove Renchen had used his position as Mayor and as a candidate to pressure people into voting for him. The bribery charge was withdrawn during the proceedings.
Little called numerous witnesses who stated Renchen had come to their homes in order to help them fill our their absentee ballots. Allison Rigdon, Sheryl Yockey, Mistie Yockey and Barbara Merill all stated Renchen's presence had influenced their votes.
"He came to my house two or three times to ask if I had an absentee ballot," Rigdon said. "A few times I said no, and other times I made excuses because I didn't want to do it just then."
"I started to check his name and the lady he was running against, because it said you can check two," Rigdon said. "He told me not to do that because then he wouldn't get the vote."
Sheryl Yockey said she had the same situation.
"We went in the house where I had the ballots and he watched me fill them out," Sheryl Yockey said. "When it came to him and Bernice, I felt bound to vote for him because he was standing over me."
Yockey said Renchen also offered to mail her absentee ballot for her, so long as she had a stamp on the envelope. Yockey said she took him up on his offer.
Attorney Mike Allen, Renchen's legal counsel, noted that in each case Renchen had not gone into homes as the Mayor of Aberdeen, but as a friend or acquaintance of those families. Additionally, Allen noted that at no time did the alleged victims ask Renchen to leave their homes. Allen said the statue that the state of Ohio was attempting to prosecute Renchen for was not intended for his situation.
"He came as a friend or acquaintance," Allen said. "I believe Mr. Renchen has been improperly charged. Some of them didn't even know he was the Mayor."
"The statue states that anyone acting under the color of office or as a candidate," Little said. "There's no question he was there as a candidate. Many of the witnesses testified he was not there unless he was running for office."
Common Pleas Judge Scott Gusweiler agreed with Allen, dismissing counts three through six. However, Gusweiler stated that there was evidence that Renchen had used his position as Mayor to persuade former Police Chief Clark Gast to vote for him in 2010. Gast testified on Jan. 14 that Renchen had wanted him to get votes from members of his family. Gast was listed as the victim in the count two.
"He wanted to be present when I filled out my absentee ballot, but I actually went to the polls that year," Gast said. "He stated he knew my mother and my stepson were voters, and he wanted to get us all together and help us vote."
"He felt he had helped me through the hiring process (to become Police Chief) and that I owed that to him," Gast said.
Allen asked Gast if he had told Renchen that he would be able to secure votes from his family, but Gast said he had never made that promise.
"I did not promise him those votes," Gast said.
At the end of the court proceedings, Gusweiler stated the state had not adequately provided proof that Renchen had used his position as Mayor to force individuals to vote for him in the 2010 election. The final charge was also dismissed at that time.