Body camera footage during Bobby Hunt’s June 2022 arrest can be viewed in the video player above. Viewer discretion is advised.

NELSONVILLE, Ohio (WCMH) — The Meigs County sheriff, who was fired in 2019 from the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigations, is facing a federal lawsuit stemming from earlier work one county north. 

In the complaint, former Nelsonville residents Bobby Hunt and Ashley Klinedinst accused three law enforcement officers — including Scott Fitch, now the Meigs County sheriff and the Nelsonville police chief at the time — and one former government official of violating their civil rights before and during a 2022 arrest. 

The lawsuit was filed in the U.S. Southern Ohio District Court in May. It names Fitch, as well as former Nelsonville City Manager Scott Frank, former sergeant of police K. J. Tracy, officer Benjamin Adams and the city itself. 

Hunt and Klinedinst, who have a domestic partnership and were living together with their four children, are seeking $4 million in damages. 

‘You wouldn’t be the first’

In the weeks and days before the arrest, Hunt and Klinedinst allege Frank discriminated against Hunt, who is Black. In May, Klinedinst claimed she watched Frank “accost” her and Hunt’s children in their backyard from his truck.

Then, the pair sat on Hunt’s red motorcycle at a stop sign in June, when Frank emerged from his truck — which was in front of his daughter’s house — and asked Hunt to hand over his license. When Hunt didn’t, the lawsuit alleges Frank threatened to kick both of them out of Nelsonville and tow his motorcycle.

Two days later, on June 6, 2022, Fitch and three other officers arrested Hunt and Klinedinst, both at the time sick with COVID-19, after first issuing a ticket for Hunt’s lack of a valid motorcycle license. 

The early minutes of more than two hours’ worth of body camera footage obtained through a public records request show Hunt and Fitch bickered with, and at times shouted at, each other. 

As Fitch waited for a tow truck to tow the motorcycle, Hunt walked down his front deck stairs toward his car, threw his hoodie over his head and told Fitch: “I got my hoodie on. Don’t shoot.”

“You wouldn’t be the first,” Fitch told Hunt. 

As their argument escalated, Adams — whose body camera caught much of the incident — turned away for a minute or so. When he turned back, Fitch was pinning Hunt against a silver car and putting him in handcuffs. Fitch was not wearing a body camera during the arrest. 

About a minute later, Fitch walked Hunt to his police cruiser and listed off Hunt’s charges, including disorderly conduct. More than once, Fitch put his hands around Hunt’s neck.

Once Hunt was inside the cruiser and the door was closed, Klinedinst, who was shouting and recording the encounter on her phone, grabbed the cruiser door handle and opened it — prompting Tracy to arrest her for disorderly conduct and obstructing justice. “We’re calling CPS,” Tracy told her. 

Although Child Protective Services was contacted, the lawsuit alleges the officers left the pair’s baby “in distress, unattended, and unobserved” for close to an hour post-arrest. Additional body camera footage showed Adams and Tracy entered their home, acknowledged the crying baby and an unsecured dog, and then waited on the front porch for children services to arrive. 

Within a few hours, children services arrived at a daycare where the pair’s three other children were at. Although they were under the care of Klinedinst’s mother, the children were also taken into custody, the lawsuit claims.

A narrative police report filed by Adams on June 7 stated that Fitch informed Tracy and him that a man had been riding his motorcycle without proper licensing, something Nelsonville police had already received calls about. Hunt and Klinedinst claimed in their lawsuit the report was falsified and the arrests were unwarranted, and CPS should have never taken their children. 

A prosecutor later dropped all charges against them, including Hunt’s traffic citation.

“I think an ordinary person — looking at the way they were treated, under those circumstances — would certainly feel beset by the defendants,” plaintiff attorney Daniel Klos said in an interview.

Frank, who resigned as city manager in January, could not be reached for comment, and the attorney on file for all four defendants did not respond to two requests for comment.

A special agent’s rise and fall

The lawsuit is not the first time Fitch has been accused of professional misconduct, or of racism.

After serving as a special agent in southeast Ohio for nearly two decades, Fitch was fired from BCI in 2019 after an investigation found he falsified documents for an evidence room audit he never completed. 

Less than two months after the audit investigation opened, Fitch learned he was also being investigated for years-old social media posts he made that “could be construed as racist,” according to BCI investigation materials.

Within a year and a half of his termination, an arbitrator found that BCI violated several due process provisions in its collective bargaining agreement with the police union, rendering Fitch eligible for reinstatement and back pay. 

Fitch did not respond to requests for comment for this story.

None of the Meigs County Commissioners, who hired him as sheriff in November 2022, responded either.

Until the investigations opened in mid-2019, Fitch’s BCI personnel record painted the portrait of a dogged, well-respected special agent: his performance reviews glowed with praise about his high workload, thorough investigative notes and strong relationships with local law enforcement. 

From his first year as a special agent in 2001 to his promotion to special agent supervisor in 2011, he received scores of admiration from BCI administrators and county prosecutors. 

“His hard work, attention to detail, and thorough professionalism were quite evident to the jury and reflect great credit upon himself and the BCI,” one prosecutor wrote of Fitch’s testimony in 2002.

Fitch received exemplary marks on performance reviews, regularly exceeding expectations for the quantity of work he undertook — earning him more responsibilities. By the time he was ordered to conduct an evidence room audit in late 2016, he was leading the Athens BCI Office and in charge of the region’s special investigations unit.

He later told investigators that at this time, his work on the Pike County murders commanded upward of 70 hours each week. Combined with personal stressors, he didn’t have time to perform the audit, he said, so he conducted a cursory review of about five or six items.

Fitch told administrators the same in early 2017, after a worker with sole authority to open the evidence room vault reported Fitch for never performing the audit. Her claim was backed by security footage showing Fitch hadn’t been to the vault.

He took a voluntary demotion shortly after to avoid an investigation, telling investigators years later that he didn’t want to be a supervisor anymore.

New BCI administrators heard that Fitch’s credibility in court could be at risk and opened new investigations in 2019, according to BCI documents. Nearly three years had passed since the never-completed audit.

The agency also investigated allegations that Fitch posted racist comments on Facebook around the same time as the Pike County murder investigations. The Facebook posts were not included in the investigative file and were deleted in 2017, according to BCI records. 

When Fitch was fired in December 2019, only his falsified audit form and dishonesty during the investigation were mentioned as the basis. 

Timesheets showed that although Fitch claimed he worked more than 70 hours per week on the Pike County homicides, he never clocked more than 45 hours during the criminal investigations, an administrator wrote in Fitch’s termination letter.

“Because of the actions noted above, your fitness for duty is severely reduced and your credibility would be attacked any time you testify in court,” Fitch’s termination letter read. 

A federal arbitrator determined that BCI took an unreasonably long time — four months — to complete its internal investigation. BCI also failed to notify Fitch of the outcome, only offering the investigative report after the union filed a public records request. In 2021, his termination was overturned.

By that time, he was chief of police in Nelsonville.