Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine. Photo courtesy The Ohio Channel.
Note: This story has been updated.
A Miami County resident reported to police being recruited to take part in a citizen’s arrest of Gov. Mike DeWine at his Cedarville home a week ago, but the plot evidently never materialized.
The plot is alleged to have involved Renea Turner, a former write-in candidate for governor who ran against DeWine in 2018. A state representative says he recently met with Turner prior to the alleged call and she inquired about the governor’s home, the Ohio Capital Journal has learned.
The Ohio State Highway Patrol, which handles security for the governor and his residences, was notified of the report by local law enforcement and is investigating.
At a press conference Friday afternoon to discuss allocation of CARES Act funding in Ohio, DeWine told reporters he was unaware of the alleged plot and had not been briefed on it to that point.
This report to police came just a week after 13 men were arrested for reportedly planning to kidnap Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and it follows months of protests against DeWine and state health officials.
According to a Piqua Police Department report from Oct. 16, a citizen told an officer about being called earlier that morning by Turner, a Springfield native who is an outspoken critic of DeWine. Turner reportedly asked if they wanted to take part in an attempt to arrest the governor at his home later that weekend and try him for allegations of tyranny.
The Ohio Capital Journal initially declined to identify Turner as the alleged caller, as law enforcement would not confirm if she had been under investigation or charged with a crime and she could not be reached by this outlet for comment.
Since the original publication of this story, Turner has spoken on the record with cleveland.com about the call, which she confirmed took place. She told the outlet that she did speak to the Miami County person about placing DeWine under house arrest, but reportedly denied discussing any specific plans.
The Capital Journal is not identifying the person who reported the incident to police after the person asked to remain anonymous for safety reasons, having already followed up with Piqua law enforcement about a threat made against them online.
The person who reported the call told this outlet the plot stemmed from anger toward the governor’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The person said they too are a critic of DeWine and claimed to have recently filed a citizen affidavit seeking criminal charges against the governor. State Rep. John Becker, R-Union Twp., who has led an impeachment effort against DeWine in the Statehouse, has urged Ohioans to submit such affidavits about the governor.
“Do I think (DeWine) needs to be arrested? Absolutely,” the person said. “But all that needs to happen within the confines of the law.”
They claimed they were initially excited when receiving the call last Friday, thinking the conversation would be about the ongoing search from DeWine critics to find a prosecutor willing to bring charges against him.
“(The caller) said ‘no, we the people, we’re going to arrest him,’” the source said.
According to this person, the caller described several supposed penalties for a citizen’s trial on tyranny — permanent exile or execution.
Soon after the call, they decided to contact the police.
“If I don’t do something about this and something happens, I’m either legally culpable or at least I’m going to feel bad,” they said. “Not that I have any love lost between me and Gov. Mike DeWine. Again, I think he needs to be in prison. But again, if (the caller) had done something … I would have felt ethically responsible, right?”
State legislator says Turner recently asked about DeWine’s home in private chat
Becker told the Capital Journal he met with Turner a few weeks ago in Columbus at her request to speak about theoretical criminal charges against the governor. While his focus has been on locating a willing prosecutor, he said Turner spoke about finding a county sheriff to make the arrest.
“I just kind of shrugged my shoulders and said, ‘good luck with that,'” Becker recalled.
Then came an unusual change in subject: Turner wanted to know more about the governor’s residence in Cedarville. Becker said Turner asked whether the personal residence constituted public property during DeWine’s term as governor.
“It was kind of a strange question,” Becker said.
After the conversation ended, Becker asked Turner’s question to the Legislative Service Commission, a nonpartisan group which gives private law research to lawmakers. He learned the home remains a private residence, and passed that information along to her.
Becker did not hear again from Turner after that. Earlier this week, he heard from the Miami County resident about the alleged plot. The person told him about Turner and Becker recognized her name from their recent meeting.
Becker said he informed the Statehouse’s sergeant at arms about the situation when returning to work earlier this week. He later posted a YouTube video about the incident, referring to the person who reported the call to police as a “hero.”
Becker confirmed to the Capital Journal he was contacted by the Ohio State Highway Patrol on Friday. The lawmaker said he described to the Patrol his interactions with Turner and the Miami County resident.
Piqua Police Chief Rick Byron told the Capital Journal on Thursday the citizen’s report was turned over to the Patrol.
“At this point, we have not followed up with them and have no plans to do so,” Byron said, noting the alleged caller is not from Piqua and therefore his department does not have jurisdiction. “We’re pretty confident that (the Patrol is) going to handle this situation.”
Dan Tierney, a spokesperson for the governor’s office, referred questions about the situation to the Patrol.
In a brief statement on Thursday, Lt. Tiffany Meeks told the Capital Journal: “For security, the Patrol does not discuss threats or security operations involving the governor.” The Patrol later confirmed to the Dayton Daily News it was “currently investigating the incident.”
Cleveland.com quoted Turner on Friday as saying officials with the Patrol came to her home that morning “to check out my temperament and what my plans are.”
Since the report was made on Oct. 16, the governor has hosted three press conferences at his Cedarville home: his traditional virus-related updates on Oct. 20 and 22, and the CARES Act press conference with legislative leaders on Friday.
After this story was first published, reporters asked DeWine during his CARES Act press conference about his reaction to the alleged plot.
“I don’t know the details of the so-called plan,” he said. “I can’t really comment on that.”
Asked if he was shocked to learn about such a plot, DeWine answered: “No. I’m not shocked by it. At this point in my life, not much shocks me anymore. It’s a sad thing.”
This is the latest in a series of alleged plots targeting political leaders in 2020 for their responses to the pandemic. In Michigan, state and federal law enforcement foiled a plot to kidnap and try Gov. Whitmer, with seven of the men being charged under the state’s anti-terrorism law.
There is no known connection between these plots and the one reported in Piqua.
Turner is former governor candidate
Turner, of Springfield in Clark County, campaigned for governor as a write-in candidate in 2018.
Turner encountered DeWine on the campaign trail, later posting a picture of themselves together to social media. A post on her Facebook page claims she pretended to be a supporter of DeWine’s, then told him after the picture was taken she was actually campaigning against him.
Turner received 185 votes in the 2018 general election, including one from the person who later reported her call to Piqua police.
Turner received 128 more votes as a write-in candidate for Springfield mayor in 2019 before turning her attention back to DeWine amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Her social media pages are littered with conspiracy theories involving the virus, government microchips and vaccine mandates. Many of the posts have been flagged by Facebook as spreading misinformation.
Turner has shared several posts from state Rep. Nino Vitale, R-Urbana, who has made headlines throughout 2020 for posting falsehoods about the virus — such as an April claim that it may have been created by Bill Gates.
Turner shared one post by Vitale from May 18, in which he accused DeWine of “giving himself total dictatorial power.” Vitale also falsely suggested the governor knew about the virus in March 2019, many months before the novel coronavirus was ever discovered.
In July, Turner posted photos of herself protesting health orders at the Ohio Statehouse with a signs referring to the governor as Hitler.
Turner took to the Statehouse again on Thursday, proclaiming she had removed the governor from office through a self-issued declaration. A video shared to Facebook shows Turner taking an oath of office, with a signed sheet of paper claiming her to be the next governor of Ohio.
Turner did not address the Thursday incident in her interview with cleveland.com.
‘It’s wrong morally, it’s wrong legally’
DeWine reiterated on Friday that the plot against Whitmer was “despicable” and added he denounced any effort by people to subvert the legal system and target public officials.
“We are seeing people out there who believe that,” the governor said. “We have an obligation, each one of us as elected officials, opinion leaders, to denounce that and say ‘that is wrong.’ It’s wrong morally, it’s wrong legally, it’s anti-democratic, it’s anti-everything this country stands for.”
While DeWine has enjoyed widespread, bipartisan support throughout 2020 for his response to the pandemic, his administration has also been the subject of intense condemnation. Four legislators have endorsed his impeachment, and dozens of others have supported various bills seeking to limit the executive’s power to handle an infectious disease.
Repeated protests at the Statehouse led DeWine to move his press conferences from Capitol Square to a government building elsewhere due to “security reasons,” WKYC reported in April.
That same month, Cleveland.com reported that Ohioans protesting the state’s public health orders were seen “driving by DeWine’s Greene County house, filming it and counting cars.” The outlet quoted a DeWine spokesperson as saying security officials were aware of this surveillance but could not comment further.
In May, protesters repeatedly targeted the home of Dr. Amy Acton, who was then serving as director of the Ohio Department of Health. There were reports that some of the protesters were armed with guns, and one person was photographed carrying an anti-Semitic sign. Not long after, Acton resigned as state health director.
The state has been without a permanent health director in the months since. A replacement was announced in September, but the person selected withdrew from consideration after learning of the harassment leveled against Acton. The Ohio Department of Health continues to be led by an interim director.
Also in May, Democratic House Minority Leader Emilia Sykes reported a phone call to police threatening to kill her father, state Sen. Vernon Sykes, if she did not “step aside” politically.
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