Athens County Sheriff Sergeant Jimmy Childs was arrested Friday night in connection to the Athens County Prosecutor’s Office’s sweeping investigation into the Bellar family.
Childs, also an Athens County school resource officer, was charged with obstruction of justice and tampering with evidence, both third-degree felonies, according to booking records from the Southeastern Ohio Regional Jail where he is being held.
Athens County investigators executed a search warrant in Pike County on Thursday where they recovered the cell phone of Robert Bellar, the indicted father of Serah Bellar who, along with his wife, was charged with a number of felonies related to reports of abetting sexual and physical abuse against children within their household.
On Friday, investigators executed a search warrant on the phone in Athens County, and are accusing him of deleting evidence of a phone call he had with Robert and providing false information during the course of the prosecutor’s investigation, Athens County Prosecutor Keller Blackburn said.
He was arrested around 6:27 p.m. in Athens, Blackburn said. The Nelsonville Police Department transported Childs to jail.
Childs is set to appear in Athens County Municipal Court at 9:30 a.m. Monday.
Childs, who has been with the Athens County Sheriff’s Office for over 30 years, often places in The Athens News Reader’s Choice Awards’ law enforcement officer category.
Blackburn said the Sheriff’s Office was not involved in the investigation but that Sheriff Rodney Smith was cooperative.
As previously reported by The Athens Messenger, indictment documents from members of the Bellar family, Childs allegedly has a close connection to the family.
Bob Bellar, indicted Tuesday for child endangerment, mentioned Childs in a previously recorded phone call with his son in prison, according to indictments, and said he believed Childs “has their back.”
Serah Bellar, 18, who recently resurfaced after disappearing in April 2020, also mentioned Childs by name in conversation with prosecutors, documents show. She also told The Athens Messenger in April that she believed Childs was a close friend of her parents, both of whom were indicted Tuesday by the Athens County Prosecutor’s office for endangering their children.
In a phone call recorded from prison, documents say, Bob and his incarcerated son Josiah Bellar discussed Serah Bellar’s disappearance in 2020, and referenced Childs apparently meeting Sheriff Rodney Smith.
“Robert tells Josiah that Jimmy (referring to Jimmy Childs) just left Rodney’s (referring to [Athens County] Sheriff Rodney Smith) office (sic) and Jimmy said he loves them and he has (the Bellar family’s) back,” according to documents that described the recorded call.
Serah came to know Childs through the Bellar family’s involvement in the Athens County Sheriff’s Office Explorers program, where children work alongside law enforcement and participate in volunteer opportunities and exercise. The Bellar’s were volunteer administrators of the program.
The documents contain allegations from Serah Bellar who believed that Childs was revealing her location to the Bellar’s while she was in foster care in Athens County prior to her disappearance. She alleged Childs approached her multiple times at school in his capacity as Federal Hocking Schools resource officer.
In the indictment, Serah Bellar also alleged that she was being harassed by relatives while at the Athens County Fair with her foster family prior to her fleeing, and sought Childs for help. She alleged Childs did not offer any help beyond asking them to stop.
Childs told The Athens Messenger on Wednesday he did not remember this interaction.
In the indictments and in an interview with The Athens Messenger, Serah Bellar listed her fear of Childs as a reason for why she decided to run away.
On Wednesday, The Messenger was able to contact Childs, who claimed he was unaware of the contents of the indictments.
Childs denied any impropriety on Wednesday.
“I don’t know anything about that, I’m pretty much irrelevant to the entire case at this point,” Childs said after being read the indictment.
When asked about the recorded phone call where Bob Bellar expresses confidence that Childs will assist the family, Childs said he did not know anything about that, and directed further questions to Smith.
“I don’t know about that — I don’t know about that,” Childs said.
He denied ever approaching Serah Bellar in his capacity as school resource officer at Federal Hocking.
“I can’t respond to that — I don’t work that way,” Childs said.
In 2019, the Athens County Prosecutor’s Office expressed concern about Childs handling of a sexting case in his role as Alexander School District school resource officer, The Athens NEWS reported. In that instance, a teacher alleged she reported the sexting case and Childs informed them that Alexander Schools and the Athens County Sheriff’s Office have an ‘agreement’ on how to ‘handle things’ so that children would not be hurt in these circumstances.”
The prosecutor’s office was concerned that no incident report was created by Childs or any other officer with regard to an incident that occurred at Alexander Schools between the time of the initial reporting of the incident in January 2019, The Athens NEWS previously reported.
In an interview about Childs’ naming in the indictment, Smith told the Messenger on Wednesday that he did not recall any interactions between him and Childs that were improper in connection to the Bellar family.
Smith also said he could not say at this time whether Childs will be investigated as he has not had time to review the indictments.
The Athens County Sheriff’s Office had stepped back from the Bellar investigation to avoid a perceived conflict of interest, as Robert and Deborah Bellar were involved in the ACSO Explorer’s program as parent volunteers, Smith said.
“As soon as those allegations came up when Serah surfaced — that’s why I asked the prosecutors to do the investigation because they were the parents of Explorers,” Smith said.
However, he said his office does not have a close relationship with the Bellar’s.
“There’s been literally hundreds of kids of parents that help out and — of course nobody knew anything like that was ongoing,” Smith said in reference to the Bellar indictments.
The AthensNEWS reached out to Smith on Friday night for comment on the arrest of Childs. He declined to comment on the situation and stated that the Sheriff’s Office would be releasing a statement on Monday.
Photos, however, seen by The Athens Messenger, show Smith, Childs and Robert Bellar posing together in comical manners, or in others, photos of Childs and Smith with multiple members of the Bellar Family.
The photos, seen on a publicly available Facebook of a relative to Smith, are taken mostly in 2019, including in December, months before Bellar disappeared.
Serah Bellar said in April she believed based on her experiences her parents and Childs were close friends. She said all of her family was involved in the Sheriff’s Office’s Explorers program, including herself.
“After a while of being administrator, (Deborah) and Jimmy got really close,” Serah told The Messenger. “(Childs) and Bob were always best friends.”
On Tuesday, four family members of the formerly missing teen were indicted on a litany of physical and sexual abuse charges, the Athens County Prosecutors Office said in a release.
Serah, originally of Amesville, resurfaced in late April with a Facebook post from an account under a pseudonym, The Athens Messenger previously reported.
Bellar, under the name Delilah Rose Price, said in a lengthy post she had left her home of her own volition, and described a pattern of abuse, including sexual abuse happening in her household. In her post, she said she wanted to wait until she was 18 years old to come forward, fearing for her safety.
The Athens County Sheriff’s Office worked to positively identify Bellar and assisted with search warrants while Athens County Prosecutor Keller Blackburn launched an investigation with the cooperation of other law enforcement agencies to begin unraveling the history behind Bellar’s disappearance, the release said.
Sydney Dawes and Kaitlin Thorne contributed reporting.