ASHLAND — An Ashland County Sheriff’s Office law enforcement officer has been charged with criminal negligence that allegedly put the lives of other deputies in danger, according to copies of her disciplinary files and criminal investigation paperwork reviewed by Ashland Source.

A pre-trial hearing is scheduled June 6 for Deputy Cindy Benner in Ashland Municipal Court on four charges of dereliction of duty, all second-degree misdemeanors.

A second-degree misdemeanor is punishable by up to 90 days in jail and a maximum $750 fine under Ohio law.

Benner, a former sergeant who was demoted to deputy in January, was charged on March 2 and pleaded not guilty to the charges on March 10, according to court records.

The charges, filed by City of Ashland Law Director Richard Wolfe, came after an outside investigation by the Richland County Sheriff’s Office, done at the request of the ACSO. Multiple calls seeking comment from the law director’s office were not returned.

A copy of RCSO’s investigation into Cindy Benner.

According to her disciplinary file, Benner has allegedly been involved in 21 incidents since November 2021 in which she allowed other deputies to handle calls about strangulations, dead bodies and car crashes while she drove around, sat in her car or stalled while responding to other calls.

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Her alleged violations continued for more than a year before ACSO leadership discovered the extent of her negligence, according to Chief Deputy David Blake.

“You have put (co-workers) lives in danger by your actions. You are in dereliction of your sworn duties,” Blake wrote in his report.

Ashland County Sheriff Wayne Risner declined to comment through a member of his staff, citing Benner’s ongoing criminal case.

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Benner, 56, also declined to discuss details.

“At this time, I believe that any story is premature. Upon the advice of my attorney, I have no further comment,” Benner, a 30-year law enforcement veteran, said.

Her attorney, Cassandra Mayer, did not respond to three requests for comment via phone.

Law enforcement officers can be charged with dereliction of duty if they “fail to serve a warrant without delay” or “fail to prevent or halt the commission of an offense or to apprehend an offender, when it is the law enforcement officer’s power to do so alone or with available assistance,” according to Ohio Revised Code Section 2921.44.

Benner is charged in connection with four incidents, including two where she did not respond to domestic violence calls, which are “one of the highest risk (calls)” for officers, according to Jeffrey Scott of Ashland, the former executive director of the Ohio Peace Officer Training Academy.

Throughout her career, Benner won multiple awards from the Buckeye State’s Sheriff’s Association, including a few as recently as 2020. 

That year, she received awards for safe driving, not taking any sick days; serving on the force for 30 years; an award for her help with a man threatening to hurt officers and himself; and a life-saving award for her response to a call about a woman who was not breathing. 

None of the deputies RCSO interviewed said they wanted Benner to be fired, but all said she should not be out on the road any longer.

The following counts are drawn from the criminal complaint filed with the Ashland Municipal Court in March.

Count One

Nov. 3, 2021: Benner allegedly chose to respond to a dead deer over a domestic violence call

On this day, ACSO received a call about a suspect who had allegedly pushed his grandfather down the stairs.

According to Benner’s file, a call went out requesting two officers, but Benner never responded. Deputy Shaun Taylor handled the domestic violence call with the help of an Ohio State Highway Patrol officer, while Benner responded to a “non-priority” call about a dead deer in a pond. 

“This is poor decision making on your part and risked the safety of your officers,” Blake wrote in Benner’s disciplinary file.

When asked later why she chose to deal with the deer instead of the priority domestic violence call, she said that “the call needed handled,” according to her disciplinary file. 

Count Two

Oct. 27, 2022: Benner allegedly stayed at a special detail while another officer handled a domestic violence call

The second incident took place while Benner was working a detail at Savannah’s Trick or Treat. The Ashland County Sheriff’s Office received a call about a male choking a female.

But instead of responding herself, the investigation stated Benner asked dispatch if state troopers could assist Deputy Dan Saylor with the call. 

Benner stayed at trick or treat even though the highway patrol never indicated they would help, according to her disciplinary file. 

Saylor later told investigators that he expected Benner to respond to “calls like these” but that “rarely happens.”

Count Three

Nov. 2, 2022: Benner allegedly drove away from a call about a suicidal man with a gun

At 11:12 p.m., the sheriff’s office received a call about a suicidal man armed with a gun. When it came in, Benner, who was within a few miles of the call, drove away from it, officials claim, citing vehicle tracking technology.

According to Deputy Daniel Saylor, who responded to the call, Benner’s response time should have been less than two minutes. Instead, she never responded.

While Saylor handled the situation, Benner stopped at a church in Ashland. When she saw that another officer, Sgt. John Hale, was going to assist Saylor, she started to move toward the call, her disciplinary file states.

She eventually stopped on State Route 250 to wait for Hale to get close. When he was almost there, Benner started driving toward the call again, her disciplinary file states.

When she arrived, she parked in a nearby parking lot. She didn’t leave her car, she didn’t use her radio, authorities say. Saylor and Hale finished the call themselves.

Saylor later told RCSO investigators that Benner’s name should be next to the definition of dereliction of duty. 

He also told investigators that Benner has several locations she visits regularly to sit for hours. She also deflects calls to other deputies, does not patrol, and does not self-initiate anything.

He also said he believes Benner is not physically capable of helping other deputies or defending herself.

When asked later why she didn’t respond to the suicide call, Benner blamed dispatch for not assigning the call to her. But dispatch knew she wouldn’t respond to urgent calls, so they didn’t bother assigning her this one, her disciplinary file states. 

Deputies frequently reached out to other agencies for backup because they knew Benner would not respond to calls, ACSO dispatcher Olivia Starkey told investigators. 

Starkey also said she would watch Benner’s movement when she was dispatched to calls. Benner would show up to the call then stop and wait until another deputy would arrive. Starkey told investigators she believed Benner did this to avoid being the primary deputy on scene or to avoid filling out reports. 

According to her disciplinary file, when she did respond to calls, she often arrived late and still let other officers handle it. 

Count Four

Nov. 8, 2022: Benner allegedly waited to respond to an urgent backup call from another officer

At 6:50 p.m., Deputy Garrett Dudte sent out an urgent request for backup on a traffic stop. Benner, who was at home eating a meal, acknowledged the call.

According to Dudte, he pulled over a car with a male hiding under a blanket on the floor in the back of the vehicle. Dudte ordered him out of the car, and as he exited he removed a gun from his waistband and set it on the floor of the vehicle. 

Once the man was out of the car, he started attacking Dudte. Dudte said he noticed the male had a magazine sticking out of his pants pocket and that he was fighting to get back to the car where the gun was. 

During the stop, dispatch tried and failed to call Dudte three times, Deputy Luke Wenrich, who happened to be on the phone with Dudte during the stop and could hear the fight, told dispatch to contact the highway patrol to back up Dudte, a job that procedurally falls to Benner, the shift supervisor. 

Six minutes after Dudte sent out the urgent backup request, Benner left her house, her disciplinary file states.

Dudte eventually managed to get the suspect in handcuffs with the help of a citizen who stopped to help, the investigation states. When Benner arrived at 7:01 p.m., Dudte had the suspect lying on the ground. Next to him was the suspect’s handgun and a magazine.

A New London police officer helped Dudte instead of Benner, who didn’t say or do anything upon arrival, according to her disciplinary file.

Dudte told investigators he altered the way he worked when Benner was on duty, saying he would “not get into anything” because he was worried she wouldn’t respond if he needed help.

He also said Benner would tend to avoid calls that could escalate to violence or end in a confrontation with law enforcement. 

Cindy Benner’s disciplinary file from ACSO.

The Aftermath

On Jan. 4, 2023, Benner was demoted to deputy, suspended from the force for 30 days, and assigned to work at the Ashland County Jail.

Instead of firing her, Blake said he chose to demote her because she was a 30-year employee with no significant history of disciplinary problems, and he thought she could “finish out her career” there, he said.

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“I just felt that, she had a year or two left to do, could she go into (the) jail and do her job? And so far she has been,” he said.

Blake said he later asked Benner why she allegedly started to avoid or ignore calls in 2021, but she never answered him, he said.

Dudte’s fight with the suspect and Benner’s delayed response brought her misconduct “to a boiling point” in the office, Lt. Don Sims, Benner’s supervisor, told investigators. 

Dudte filed a formal complaint against Benner and Sims brought it to Blake, his supervisor.

Meanwhile, other deputies brought their concerns about Benner to an attorney with the Ohio Patrolman’s Benevolent Association — ACSO’s union — who said the association could file a formal complaint against her. 

ACSO administration “got word” of the potential union action and deputies’ complaints, and they realized “this was a much bigger incident than they thought,” Sims told investigators. 

The administration encouraged deputies to “submit specific incidents” that line up with their complaints.

Sims described the number of incidents they got back from deputies as a “laundry list.”

In her disciplinary file, Blake later wrote deputies have “no confidence” in Benner as a supervisor or as a deputy. 

Sims told investigators he received a few complaints about Benner since 2020 but he did not save any of them because he assumed things would get better. He admitted to the investigator that this was a mistake.

Sims met with Benner “several times” to address the complaints, but never issued any documented discipline to her from those meetings.

According to Blake, Benner’s veteran status and reputation made deputies reluctant to file written complaints about her, so signs of her alleged misconduct came mostly via these sporadic informal complaints, Blake said.

“(I found) out some of these things were going on for a long period of time and they weren’t saying anything about it,” he said.

Dudte also told investigators that if Benner found out an officer had complained about her, she would “pick on” them. 

Last fall, Deputy Shaun Taylor resigned from the ASCO and made similar allegations against Benner. Taylor refused to be interviewed by RCSO investigators, but Saylor told them Taylor resigned specifically because of Benner.

Saylor alleged that Benner “was always picking on” Taylor and would not respond to his calls or back him up because she didn’t like him. 

When Blake uncovered the severity and frequency of Benner’s alleged violations, he sat down with the deputies that knew about her issues and told them they should have come forward a while ago, he said.

During Benner’s disciplinary process, ACSO’s labor attorney and Risner decided to look into potential criminal charges against her, prompting the investigation from the Richland County Sheriff’s Office, Blake said.

’She should have been terminated’

Scott, the former OPATA director, reviewed Benner’s disciplinary file and said something should have been done about her sooner.

“When you fail to supervise or you fail as a leader to step in early and take intervention early, you’re missing opportunities to help the person that needs the help,” he said.

“So not only has she put other people in jeopardy, but because they waited so long before they pulled her off the road and all these things are happening, they’re also hurting her,” he said.

The Richland County Sheriff’s Office declined to comment on this story, opting instead to provide a copy of Benner’s case file.

Scott said he would have handled her discipline differently if he were in charge.

“If I were sheriff, she would have been terminated. Hands down, she would have been terminated,” he said.

Benner is still working at the Ashland County Jail as the case against her proceeds. 

In the wake of Benner’s alleged violations, policy changes at the sheriff’s office are unlikely, according to Blake, who said current policies are sufficient.

Instead, Blake said the office needed a personnel change. Once Benner was demoted to the jail, the shift she used to supervise has a “totally different atmosphere.”

“I think just pulling her out of that environment, it gave them a breath of fresh air and (they) felt like they can work together as a team. Because they felt working with her that she wasn’t gonna respond or (would) take her time getting there,” he said.

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