Police Chief Allegedly Overdosed On Drugs Stolen From Evidence Room

By Keri Blakinger 08/06/18

The 35-year-old died two months after being appointed part-time police chief.

on-duty policeman

An Ohio police chief who died in May of a fentanyl overdose allegedly swiped the drugs from his own department’s evidence room, according to local reports. 

Kirkersville Police Chief James Hughes had only been on the job two months when he was found unresponsive in the bathroom of his Reynoldsburg home. Nearby, officials said, were three syringes—one empty and two filled with fentanyl. Authorities also recovered a bag that tested positive for cocaine. 

The part-time police chief died a short time later, and in July the coroner officially deemed the cause of death a fentanyl overdose, according to the Newark Advocate.

The larger Reynoldsburg Police Department investigated the fatality, and last week Lt. Ron Wright revealed where he apparently got the fatal dose: the village police evidence room. 

"There was packaging that indicated that he was taking controlled substances from there," said Wright, according to the Advocate. It’s not clear if that could impact any ongoing cases. 

The 35-year-old was appointed to the 500-person village’s 20-hour-per-week job as top cop on March 13, during a two-minute council meeting. Almost a year earlier, then-chief Eric DiSario was shot to death in the line of duty during an incident at a local nursing home, according to WSYX. His replacement, Jeff Finley, resigned abruptly in early March, citing disagreements with the mayor. 

Though village council members didn’t offer any comment to the local media on it, Hughes had a troubled past before his appointment as chief. 

During the 14 months he previously worked at the local sheriff’s office, internal affairs investigated him three times. Once, he resigned after six months, though he was later rehired working at the jail. 

"I believe that Deputy Hughes needs to think before he acts," one supervisor wrote in a 2012 performance evaluation, according to the Newark paper. "Deputy Hughes is known to make bad decisions on and off duty."

A few months later, Hughes notched up a misdemeanor conviction for a drunken incident at a nearby fast food restaurant when he spit at a drive-through worker and called her a “bitch.” 

Once Reynoldsburg police wrap up their investigation of the chief’s death, they’ll likely forward the case to state authorities, Wright said. 

"It's kind of gone beyond our level. You're talking about another agency's property room," he said. "We think the state should probably intervene."

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Keri Blakinger is a former drug user and current reporter living in Texas. She covers breaking news for the Houston Chronicle and previously worked for the New York Daily News and the Ithaca Times. She has written about drugs and criminal justice for the Washington Post, Salon, Quartz and more. She loves dogs and is not impressed by rodeo food. Find Keri on LinkedIn and Twitter.