Butler County officials tangle
Butler County Commissioner James Eckstein could face charges if state police disprove his allegations against fellow Commissioner A. Dale Pinkerton, which are at the center of a defamation lawsuit.
Pinkerton this week sued Eckstein in Common Pleas court, saying that Eckstein has been spreading a false story that Pinkerton was stopped for drunken driving, Trooper Scott Altman intervened to clear him, and Altman's wife was rewarded with a 20-percent raise at her county job.
Pinkerton said he was not stopped for any traffic violations, and online court records do not show any violations.
"I'm not guilty of this," Eckstein said on Wednesday. "I'm not guilty and I'm not going to settle this. No way in hell."
A state police internal affairs investigation found no evidence that Pinkerton was involved in a traffic stop or that Altman intervened in any investigation, said Lt. Eric Hermick, head of the Butler barracks. If police prove there was no traffic stop or police intervention, they could charge Eckstein with making false reports, he said.
"We believe our officer did nothing wrong," said Hermick.
Lori Altman is Butler County's personnel director. Neither Scott Altman nor Lori Altman returned phone or emailed messages.
Hermick said Scott Altman reported the swirling rumors to his superiors last month and asked for an investigation. He said Altman is a 21-year veteran of the state police and remains on duty.
County records show Lori Altman received a raise on Dec. 7, from about $29 an hour to $35 an hour. Pinkerton, a Republican, voted to approve the increase.
Eckstein, a Democrat who took office in January, said he opposed that raise because it was too high. The commissioners who voted for it said they considered her underpaid, Pinkerton's lawsuit states.
"Eckstein began to circulate to third parties his belief that Ms. Altman received her salary increase by virtue of an illegal contrivance among Pinkerton, Ms. Altman and (her husband Scott) Altman," the lawsuit states.
Eckstein told unnamed people that Pinkerton was stopped by police for suspected drunken driving and taken to Butler Memorial Hospital. The lawsuit does not say when the reported traffic stop took place, or where.
Eckstein said that he's talked publicly with county employees about the rumored traffic stop and hospital visit, but was repeating what he had heard and was not the source.
"Maybe I shouldn't have said anything about the allegations," Eckstein said.
Eckstein said an agent with the state Attorney General's office interviewed him about the alleged traffic stop, but he told the agent he didn't witness it or see Pinkerton in the hospital.
The attorney general's office would not comment.
This isn't Eckstein's first legal issue to surface this week.
Joyce Ainsworth, director of the county's Children and Youth Services, filed a sex discrimination complaint against the county with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. The county received the complaint Monday.
Ainsworth said she filed the complaint because Eckstein confronted her during a Feb. 29 commissioners' meeting, saying the agency booked too many people to attend March conferences. Ainsworth said Eckstein never gave her an opportunity to discuss the issue privately, and said the trips were valid expenses.