A felony charge against the ex-lawman could be filed again if a key witness can be found, a prosecutor says.
By NORMAN LEIGH
VINDICATOR SALEM BUREAU
LISBON -- A former Ohio State Highway Patrol trooper will serve jail time after being found guilty of either assisting or urging a teen-age girl to run away.
He previously was accused of a sex crime involving the same juvenile.
Kenneth Browne, 32, of state Route 164, Salem Township, appeared Friday before Judge C. Ashley Pike of Columbiana County Common Pleas Court and pleaded no contest to a first-degree misdemeanor charge of interference with custody.
Judge Pike found him guilty and sentenced him to 180 days in jail, suspending 91 of those days.
The judge credited Browne for the jail time he's served since being charged with the offense in May. He has been in the county lockup on $50,000 bond.
Browne should be released from jail by Aug. 15, said Tim McNicol, an assistant county prosecutor.
The jail sentence was recommended to the judge by McNicol as part of a plea agreement.
Browne is accused of either assisting or urging a 17-year-old girl to run away from a Wooster group home into whose custody she was placed by the court after it was determined her mother was unable to control her.
She left the home in fall 2000, and authorities have been unable to locate her.
Browne has been charged twice with interfering with the girl's custody, the first time being in mid-November.
That case resulted in his being found guilty and sentenced to six months in the county jail, the maximum sentence for the crime.
Second charge: After he completed that sentence, authorities charged him with the same offense in May because the girl still hadn't been located and authorities claimed he was refusing to tell them where she could be found.
McNicol said prosecutors agreed to Friday's plea deal for two reasons: Browne already had been convicted of the same charge arising from virtually identical circumstances, and the girl has since turned 18.
Browne was charged in March 2000 with sexual battery, a third-degree felony, after prosecutors alleged he had sexual conduct with the girl in January 2000.
Browne knows the girl, and the alleged conduct did not occur while he was on duty, authorities said.
The sexual battery charge against him was dropped by prosecutors in October, not long after the girl disappeared.
McNicol said the sexual battery charge could be filed again if the girl is located by authorities and agrees to cooperate.
Browne joined the state patrol in June 1990 and was assigned to the Canfield Post throughout his career. He resigned from the agency in March 2000, several days after being charged with sexual battery.