EXCLUSIVE: Warsaw cop opens up about fallout, questions and hopes after sheriff’s ousting
KOSCIUSKO COUNTY —
When Lt. Paul Heaton showed up to the parking lot at Center Lake near the heart of Warsaw, he showed WSBT 22 the clay bracelet his children got him for Father’s Day. It was engraved with, “Rad Dad.”
Heaton, a Grace College graduate and an eight-year veteran of the Warsaw Police Department, is a husband and father of five.
He’s also responsible for recording former Kosciusko County Sheriff Aaron Rovenstine intimidating him. That recording led to a state police investigation and ultimately, the removal of the sheriff from office.
“The only regret is I wish…it never had to come to this,” Heaton told WSBT 22’s Suzanne Spencer. “That’s what’s sad about it.”
Since early 2015, Heaton has kept quiet on the matter, giving a brief comment after the judge accepted Rovenstine’s guilty plea. For the first time, he sat down when he was off-duty, to share his struggles, questions he still has, and his hopes for repairing the relationship between agencies.
“Everybody thinks it was me versus him, or brown versus blue. That’s not the case and it never has been the case,” said Heaton.
Heaton’s investigation into a former inmate
In January 2015, Heaton began looking into then-inmate Kevin Bronson and whether he was “brought to justice.” Bronson was housed at the Kosciusko County Jail and had recently been sentenced for possession of cocaine.
Heaton’s investigation into Bronson led him to Dr. Mark Soto, a professor at Grace College. Both men would later be indicted by a grand jury alongside Rovenstine. During his investigation, Heaton noticed that Bronson was allowed to have unrecorded and unmonitored visits with Soto in the Kosciusko County Jail.
Heaton called and met with then-sheriff Rovenstine in person to ask the special privileges to stop. According to search warrants, Rovenstine indicated to Heaton he understood; but the privileges continued.
Heaton recorded two of those conversations.
Search warrant documents indicate Rovenstine said to Heaton: “I could paint a story like you’re some crook” and in another conversation, “I don’t want to start World War III because everybody’s gonna lose…This will be ugly.”
He continued on, “We can investigate things. I am a police officer, I am the sheriff, I have investigators too.”
A grand jury indicted Rovenstine on 10 counts, including intimidating Heaton. All those counts, except the intimidation charge, would be dropped in exchange for a guilty plea at sentencing.
Court documents said Rovenstine threatened Heaton so that Heaton would be placed in “fear of retaliation” for beginning an investigation into Bronson.
“It was bringing someone to justice that needed to be brought to justice,” Heaton said of his investigation into Bronson. “We felt that we were continuing to have a conflict there with bringing a criminal to justice. And we didn’t understand why there was conflict.”
Heaton said he’s received pushback about his willingness to record the interactions with the sheriff. He said he often recorded conversations in police work to minimize the amount of note taking, to have a more candid conversation and because of the possibility “that something was array.”
“Honestly, I didn’t think it would ever get to where it’s at,” said Heaton. “But I didn’t want any allegations or words to be misconstrued about what I was asking for originally.”
He added: “If you’re not doing anything wrong, you got nothing to worry about, and that’s what I [was] thinking.”
The fall out
Heaton said part of the backlash came from fellow law enforcement officers.
“It hurt because I work with these guys, the sheriff’s department, on a regular basis,” he said. “They knew who I am. It made me sad to think what they were doing made it really difficult.”
What was also difficult for Heaton was the investigation that turned on himself. Search warrants indicated five Kosciusko County detectives were investigating Heaton. Three of them confirmed their investigation didn’t start until after Rovenstine made “threats” to Heaton, according to search warrants.
KCSD’s investigation was allegedly based on “tips” that Heaton had sexual relations with two informants, according to testimony. ISP requested materials pertaining to their investigation into Heaton, involving interviews with those informants and polygraph recordings, and KCSD complied.
State police noticed a deleted block of data, a recording that suddenly stopped and the lack of a polygraph video, which led the state police to conclude that KCSD “has shown a pattern to delete or not include information that is inconsistent with the narrative they are trying to prove.”
ISP questioned detectives whether Rovenstine directed or asked them to investigate Heaton. Search warrant documents indicate one detective said: “I’m just doing what I was told to do,” while another said, “They [Paul Heaton and the city] brought us into this by coming into my, to this office and basically investigating my boss.”
Heaton said nothing came of their investigation. WSBT 22 reached out to a spokesman from the KCSD to see if there is any investigation into Heaton currently. We have not heard back.
During Rovenstine’s sentencing hearing, former deputy JD Ayres testified that Rovenstine never directed him to look into Heaton, but that they were acting on tips -- even though a case was never opened against Heaton.
“It doesn’t make family life easy when you have to come home and say…these things they’re investigating and then get blasted all over the newspaper,” said Heaton.
A guilty plea
When Rovenstine took a breath and said he understood what it meant to plead guilty to a felony charge, Heaton was in the courtroom. Heaton was also there when Rovenstine was sentenced.
“The whole thing is a sad situation regardless of what side you’re on,” he said. “It’s never going to make anybody happy. It doesn’t make me happy.”
Heaton said the “political aspect” that’s come about since the conviction “has been the most crazy” – but he wants the community, that he continues to serve, to know that he’s ready to move forward.
“We’re ready to let the healing begin,” he said, adding that he knows it will take time.
“I want the healing to begin. I want them to feel like they can call me with info. I want to get back to that. I want to get back to normal, if there is a normal.”
Following Rovenstine’s removal from office, Sheriff Rocky Goshert was selected by a caucus in June to fill the rest of his term. On that day, Goshert told reporters that he and Warsaw “will sit down and we will talk,” adding, that he would “figure this out.”
Warsaw’s police chief did not give a public statement and deferred any further comment to the mayor. The mayor chose not give a public comment at this time.