COLUMBIANA COUNTY, Ohio (WKBN) – A group of citizens is calling attention to complaints made against a Columbiana County Sheriff’s detective sergeant.

First News received reports from a group calling itself the “Concerned Citizens of Columbiana County” about complaints and disciplinary action taken against Detective Sgt. Steve Walker.

After First News submitted a public records request, we found several complaints, warnings and disciplinary actions recorded in Walker’s personnel file, including letters written to the department from school superintendents.

A day after WKBN spoke with Columbiana County Sheriff Brian McLaughin about the complaints, McLaughlin told WKBN that Walker has been placed on paid leave.

The “Concerned Citizens” group questioned whether Walker is fit for his position due to those past complaints.

On December 20, 2019, United Local Schools Superintendent Lance Hostetler wrote a letter to the sheriff’s department requesting that the department open an investigation into Walker after complaints of inappropriate conduct toward student cheerleaders.

The letter stated that Walker was showing up uninvited to cheerleading practices. Despite being confronted about it and agreeing to stay away from the girls, he continued to “place himself near cheerleaders” and gave a “mixed CD” to one of the cheerleaders, according to the letter.

Just three days prior, on December 17, 2019, a different letter was sent to the department from Southern Local Schools Superintendent Tom Cunningham, requesting that Walker no longer be assigned to cover extra-curricular events in the district.

That letter stated that during school events where Walker was working security, he would not stay in the requested areas and would wander about. It also stated he would arrive late to the events.

On January 7, 2020, former Columbiana County Sheriff Raymond Stone permanently barred Walker from working at any school functions. In a “reprimand” letter from Stone, it was noted that copies of text messages and a letter from Walker to a “much younger female” had been turned over to the sheriff.

The letter included a quote from the letter reportedly written by Walker in which he allegedly says to the young girl, “I hope this letter does not make you feel uncomfortable.”

Stone stated that the letter in fact made him feel very uncomfortable and that as a “deputy sheriff of the Columbiana County Sheriff’s Office, you are held to a high moral standard.”

Current Sheriff Brian McLaughin said Wednesday that the complaints and disciplinary action were prior to him taking the position of sheriff. He went on to say if anyone has any direct knowledge of any wrongdoing by Walker, they should contact him.

McLaughlin also stated they are currently looking back into those allegations that happened at the schools.

A letter from the Concerned Citizens of Columbiana County states, “If his own supervisor and superintendents of the schools do not feel that it is safe to have him around the children of their schools, then why should the rest of the residents of Columbiana County feel safe with him around our children?”

Other warnings and disciplinary actions

Other than the inappropriate conduct complaints, Walker’s personnel file showed warnings and suspensions dating back to 1995, a year after he was hired by the department.

Below is a list of what we uncovered in his file:

  • March 19, 1995 – Verbal warning for “unsatisfactory work performance” for leaving without notice
  • Jan. 1, 1996 – Verbal warning for failure to commence duties at the beginning of shift
  • July 15, 1996 – Verbal warning for pulling a vehicle over in his own private vehicle
  • Sept. 21, 1998 – Verbal warning for being late
  • May 6, 1999 – Verbal warning for neglecting his cruiser
  • Aug. 9, 2001 – Verbal warning for errors of a court date citation
  • Jan. 7, 2003 – 30-day cruiser suspension for neglecting cruiser
  • March 10, 2009 – Verbal warning for reporting 1 minute late
  • Aug. 11, 2009 – Verbal warning for unsatisfactory work performance
  • Sept. 20, 2017 – Verbal warning for signing in before being at work
  • Sept. 25, 2017 – Verbal warning for signing in before being at work
  • Aug. 22, 2019 – Effective 9/13 reassigned to the Drug Task Force
  • Dec. 17, 2019 – Complaint from Superintendent Tom Cunningham
  • Dec. 20, 2019 – Complaint from Superintendent Lance Hostetler
  • Jan 7, 2020 – Barred from working at schools
  • Jan 21, 2021 – Verbal warning – Not disposing of unclaimed property from the evidence room
  • June 1, 2021 – 3-day suspension for neglect of duty – items not in evidence bags

On September 25, 2017, Walker was given a verbal warning for signing into work twice before he arrived at the station.

According to the warning record, on September 20, he signed in at 7:42 a.m. while still at home and did not get to the station until 8:22 a.m. On September 25, he signed in at 7:41 a.m. and did not get to the station until 8:22 a.m.

The most recent disciplinary action was on June 1, 2021, when Walker failed to log in evidence correctly.

According to the record in his file, Walker had 13 items of evidence: drugs, paraphernalia, etc. in a box. The record says some of the items were not in evidence bags, and the origins of the items were unknown. It also states that drug evidence was given to Walker by the sheriff’s office and taken to the Columbiana County Drug Task Force (CCDTF), but that as of May 10, 2021, it had yet to be entered into evidence and had been kept in an open area in CCDTF. There was also further evidence that was not logged properly.

Walker was given a three-day suspension after an agreement with his union representative.

McLaughlin says this is the only incident with Walker that has occurred since he has taken the position of sheriff.

We left a message at the department for Walker, but as of Wednesday, we have not heard back.