NEW PHILADELPHIA — A former Newcomerstown police officer pleaded guilty Wednesday afternoon to charges accusing him of fabricating a story about being shot in the line of duty, according to an announcement from Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine.
Bryan Eubanks, 37, pleaded guilty to the following charges:
• One count of inducing panic, a felony of the fifth degree;
• One count of making false alarms, a felony of the fifth degree;
• Two counts of tampering with evidence, felonies of the third degree;
• One count of forgery, a felony of the fifth degree; and
• One count of workers' compensation fraud, a misdemeanor of the first degree.
Eubanks pleaded guilty as part of a negotiated plea agreement during a pretrial conference held Wednesday before Tuscarawas County Common Pleas Judge Edward O'Farrell.
Prosecutors with Attorney General DeWine's Special Prosecutions Section are handling the case.
As a result of the plea, Eubanks is facing the possibility of prison time, and his peace officer certification will be revoked, DeWine said. A sentencing date has not yet been set.
An investigation conducted by the Tuscarawas County Sheriff's Office found that on April 11, then-officer Eubanks shot himself while on duty, but claimed he was shot by a man in a vehicle after stopping the car for a traffic violation. The fictional story led to a response involving local, state, and federal authorities. An Ohio Blue Alert was also issued in response to Eubanks' claims.
The investigation found that the defendant also tampered with evidence directly related to the case.
Additionally, an investigation by the Ohio Bureau of Workers' Compensation found that Eubanks forged workers' compensation documents to fraudulently apply for benefits related to his injury.
In a press conference a week after the incident, Tuscarawas County Sheriff Orvis Campbell and Newcomerstown Police Chief Gary Holland talked about how Eubanks later admitted to them that he had made up the incident. The officer who had spent 14 years with the department said the story was invented to cover up a failed suicide attempt. Eubanks had been shot himself in the arm. He was fired a week after the false report.
"At the end of the day we had to do our job, and he’ll be held accountable just like anybody else will," Campbell said of Eubanks at the press conference.
The response to Eubanks' claim that he had been shot by a suspect in a black Geo Tracker touched off what Campbell called "a gigantic response."
Deputies from Tuscarawas, Guernsey and Coshocton counties, officers from Newcomerstown and Uhrichsville, troopers with the Ohio Highway Patrol and federal officials from the FBI, ATF and the U.S. Marshal’s Service were involved in a search for suspects, he said. Campbell estimated that about 100 officers were involved on April 11.
A potential suspect — identified by Eubanks — came in for questioning but was cleared, Campbell said.
As the investigation continued, the evidence did not support the officer’s story.
A key piece of evidence was a license plate reader on Eubank’s cruiser. It logged all the cars that passed the cruiser while it was parked on the bridge.
Using that information, a team from the sheriff’s office tracked down the owners of all those vehicles. Four key witnesses said that there was no other vehicle on the bridge but the cruiser. They saw Eubanks standing alone on the bridge.
"It put together a picture that didn’t add up," Campbell said.
Campbell said Eubanks told investigators he had strugged emotionally since he worked on a July 2016 case in which a 53-year-old woman was beaten to death, allegedly by her son.
Holland, the Newcomerstown police chief, talked in that April press conference about the unique burden law enforcement officers bear.
"I think we have to realize that they’re human — human frailties, and some of the experiences that officers have on a daily basis does play into their emotions and their mental stability.
"So when we try to look at that, I think we have to look at the compassionate side. They’re no different than anybody else in society.
"The only difference is they’re expected to carry a bigger burden," Holland said.
Citizens in Newcomerstown, a community of 3,774 people in southern Tuscarawas County, reported being frightened by Eubanks' initial report that he had been shot by a criminal.
Later, after Eubanks' deception was revealed, people interviewed by The Times-Reporter in Newcomerstown expressed sentiments similar to those voiced by Bill Darnell, who said, "It was a waste of time and money. He should repay. He should do his time in prison."
Still others said Eubanks should get treatment for his mental and emotional problems. One, Connie Longsworth, had this to say: "The Lord says we’re supposed to forgive. He also needs our prayers."
Nancy Molnar is a staff writer for The Times-Reporter.