Fired parole board member accused of using position to avoid OVI arrest pleads guilty to lesser charge

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COLUMBUS - A fired parole board member accused of using his official position to avoid a drunken driving arrest has pleaded guilty to a lesser charge of reckless operation, 10 Investigates has learned.

Online court records show that Michael H. Jackson, a former parole board, pleaded guilty Tuesday in Franklin Municipal Court.

Jackson was fired by the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction in February for trying to use his official position to avoid an OVI arrest last November.

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Jackson is appealing his termination to the Ohio Civil Rights Commission.

Dash camera video recorded by Ohio State Highway Patrol – and obtained by 10 Investigates – shows Jackson referenced his job with the state at least three times while Ohio State Highway Patrol Trooper Steven Mahl was conducting a traffic stop in east Franklin County.

Jackson initially refused to take a field sobriety test but after learning he was going to be placed under arrest, he agreed.

Mahl said: “I've asked you, you said you didn't want to do any test.”

Jackson: “Well because I'm...because I work for the governor's office they are always telling me don't do that kind of stuff, try to just get out of it and see if you can go home. I'm right here at the house."

Jackson did not respond a voicemail seeking comment Thursday about his guilty plea.

Reached by phone Jackson's attorney, Drew Baker, would not tell 10 Investigates why prosecutor's agreed to drop the OVI charge. In an emailed statement, Baker said:

"We commend the state for reviewing the impairment aspect of of the charges and offering a resolution more commensurate with the evidence. We are pleased the outcome resulted in a non-alcohol related offense. We have no comment or knowledge as to what impact, if any, this will have on Mr. Jackson’s pending appeal."

Despite video evidence that a judge, the trooper and the ODRC felt showed Jackson was trying to use his position to avoid an arrest, Jackson denied to 10 Investigates that he abused his authority, during a brief interview in April outside court.

According to a copy of his termination letter obtained by 10 Investigates, the letter states: “You are being removed for violating the standards of employee conduct: Rule 16-Misusing official position for personal gain.” The letter goes on to state, “you attempted to use your official position with the parole board and ODRC to influence the arresting officer…”

At the time of our first report in June, a spokesman for Governor John Kasich denied knowing Jackson in an emailed response to 10 Investigates. The statement went on to say Jackson’s "comments are false and ridiculous. Moreover, the only guidance we have on drinking and driving is to follow the law and not to do it."

Earlier in the traffic stop, dash camera video shows Jackson showed Mahl his badge. Mahl can be heard asking: “Where’s that badge come back to Mike?”

Jackson says: “Adult Parole Authority.”

Mahl: “The Parole Authority?”

Mahl then asks Jackson how much he’d had to drink that night. That portion of the audio from that dash camera provided to 10 Investigates was redacted. But during an April court hearing, Mahl testified that Jackson admitted to consuming between two to three drinks before getting behind the wheel of his Ford F-150.

Earlier in the traffic stop, the dash camera video shows Mahl asks Jackson to step out of his truck. At that point, Jackson says: “Really?” And again references that “I’m with state parole.”

Jackson hung up on a 10 Investigates reporter Friday, but during a brief interview before his most recent court appearance in late April, Jackson denied abusing his position, despite dash camera video that shows he referenced his position with the trooper.

When asked by a 10 Investigates reporter if he was attempting to get out of the OVI arrest, Jackson said: “No, that’s not the case… now whether I was afraid or tongue-tied possibly, but that’s not the case.”

When asked directly by a reporter: “Are you saying you didn’t say that?”

Jackson said: “I'm saying that's not what was intended. If that is what came out I am not certain.”

But Judge James O’Grady said during that April 25 hearing that he thought Jackson’s intentions were clear.

“To put forth, you know, I'm in law enforcement, I have a badge, I work for the governor, that is...it's clear why that was done. I have no doubt in my mind. That was absolutely done to ‘we're on the same side - gimme a break and let me go.’”

Jackson becomes the third parole member to leave the parole board since February.

Two others – Richard Cholar Jr. and Andre Imbrogno – have also left the parole board in recent months.

Cholar could not be reached.

Imbrogno, who was moved to ODRC’s legal services division, declined to answer a reporter’s questions when questioned him for our June 1st report. At the time, he referred questions to an ODRC spokeswoman.

Several weeks later on June 27, Andre Rene Imbrogno, died in an automobile accident due to cardiac arrest, according to an obituary posted to legacy.com.

At the time of our first report an ODRC spokeswoman told 10 Investigates that one board member had been re-assigned and the other’s term was not renewed. No further explanation was given.