Aaron Rovenstine is out as Sheriff of Kosciusko County after being sentenced for a single count of intimidation. Rovenstine originally faced 10 counts, including bribery and misconduct, but a plea deal was struck before a judge dismissed nine of them.
Rovenstine threatened a Warsaw city officer who was investigating allegations that he accepted bribes to grant an inmate special privileges, authorities said.
After Warsaw Police Detective Paul Heaton asked the judge to consider a fair and normal sentence for Rovenstine, Judge Stephen Bowers said it was “not be a practical suggestion” due to the Sheriff’s role in the community.
Before the sentencing was handed up, Heaton gave emotional testimony.
He says a recorded phone call between himself and Sheriff Rovenstine marked the beginning of the intimidation from the Sheriff. During that call, prosecutors said Rovenstine told Heaton not to start “World War III” among other comments they considered to be threatening. Judge Bowers says the phone call was “more than an idle threat”.
Heaton says after that phone call in August of 2015, he began hearing from people in the community that they were being asked questions about him by Sheriff’s Deputies. Heaton testified that deputies went as far as to question people he had arrested.
“I was in fear for my family,” testified Heaton.
An unsigned apology letter from Aaron Rovenstine was given to Detective Heaton prior to the sentencing hearing, but Heaton said he feels it is insincere and doesn’t include the scope of what’s happened.
Defense attorneys said in closing statements that Rovenstine is sorry for what was said in the call, but they would not accept the claim that he was part of a retaliatory investigation against Heaton.
Defense attorneys argued there is no concern that Rovenstine will commit this crime again. They also aimed to minimize the hardship to dependents of Rovenstine, which they defined as not only his family, but also the sheriff’s department and the entire Kosciusko County community.
The defense argued that, not only does Rovenstine have no criminal history, but that he has “left a footprint on this community” and has been a “pillar of strength” for those around him.
Judge Bowers spoke directly to Rovenstine during sentencing, telling him that had the intimidation occurred against a member of Rovenstine’s Department or a citizen, things would be vastly different.
“I would have put you in prison,” explained Bowers.
Judge Bowers cited letters sent on behalf of Rovenstine from community members who said positive things about the former Sheriff. Specifically, he felt letters from offenders in jail held a lot of weight.
Despite not giving Rovenstine jail time, Bowers had some strong words about the crime Rovenstine committed.
“Your actions have abused your position of trust with the community,” he told Rovenstine.
Had he been incarcerated, Rovenstine would have completed his one-year sentence at Kosciusko County Jail. However, Judge Bowers chose to have Rovenstine spend that year as a reporting probation sentence.
In addition to probation, Rovenstine must complete 250 hours of community service. Judge Bowers specified the community service could not be through the Sheriff’s Department or through Rovenstine’s church.
Rovenstine was also ordered to participate in the Elkhart County victim-offender reconciliation. This will give the former Sheriff an opportunity to have a face-to-face with Warsaw Police Detective Paul Heaton. Judge Bowers says it would be unfortunate if Heaton felt punished for coming forward.
Some of the factors in the judge’s decision included the investigation of Detective Heaton by the Kosciusko County Sheriff’s Department. Judge Bowers said that investigation implicated Rovenstine, and that it should have been turned over to Indiana State Police.
Still, Bowers says he believes that former Sheriff Rovenstine is remorseful.
Rovenstine spoke briefly in the courtroom.
“I’m sorry for this whole mess and I appreciate the prayers that I’ve gotten, and the support,” he said.
Paul Heaton also was given the chance to make a final statement.
“This was never about him,” said Heaton, “He made it about him and everything thereafter has given me grief.”
Following the hearing, a press conference was held by the prosecution. Warsaw Police Chief Scott Whitaker and Detective Paul Heaton were both in attendance.
“My hopes are that this is going to be the start of the healing process,” said Chief Whitaker. “Every one of those men in that courtroom I want to work with, our officers will work with. We will work diligently with the new sheriff…in serving our community.”