Police Chief May Have Fatally Overdosed on Drugs From Evidence Room

Kirkersville Police Chief James Hughes died of an "acute intoxication by fentanyl."


Maxim Evdokimov/Dreamstime.com

Investigators say an Ohio police chief may have fatally overdosed on drugs taken from his own department's evidence room.

Kirkersville Police Chief James Hughes, 35, overdosed at his home in Reynoldsburg last May. He died of an "acute intoxication by fentanyl," according to an autopsy by the Franklin County Coroner's Office. Two syringes with fentanyl were found at the scene, in addition to a plastic bag with cocaine.

According to Reynoldsburg Police Department Lt. Ron Wright, some of those drugs appear to have come from the Kirkersville Police Department's evidence room. "There was packaging that indicated that he was taking controlled substances from there," Wright told the Newark Advocate.

Wright told The Columbus Dispatch he can't be sure the drugs from the evidence room killed Hughes. But he said investigators "couldn't find any indication that he went out and bought controlled substances…recently to do this."

Reynoldsburg police plan to end their investigation soon, but Wright said he probably will refer the case to the Ohio Attorney General's Office, which may want to examine Kirkersville's evidence room procedures. "There appeared to be some practices happening out there that probably someone from the state AG's office should probably look into," Wright said.

Hughes had been serving as police chief for just a few months. "He was hired in March and wasn't here that long, but he kept me informed [about] what was going on," Kirkersville Mayor Terry Ashcraft said in May. "A lot of stuff goes on in this town, and he'd come and done his job and never had a complaint on him."

Hughes might not have received any complaints as police chief, but an Advocate investigation conducted prior to his death revealed he might not have been the right person to lead a department. As a police officer at other departments, he was the subject of at least three internal investigations. A supervisor wrote in a 2012 performance evaluation that Hughes was "known to make bad decisions on and off duty."

Hughes made one of those bad decisions in June 2013, when he admitted yelling a racial slur at a fast food worker. The Advocate reports that he eventually pleaded guilty to "a minor misdemeanor charge of disorderly conduct."