The Columbus Dispatch

Grand jury may see case next week

Thursday, May 24, 2001
NEWS   08C

By Dean Narciso
Dispatch Police Reporter

Illustration: Photo

Columbus Police Officer Richard Wright minimized problems with his ex-wife, wife and two daughters and might have had "obsessive behavior tendencies,'' according to officers who interviewed him before he was hired by the Police Division in December 1999.

Wright is being investigated by the Franklin County Sheriff's Office in the death of his 37-year-old wife, Jan, who was shot in the chest on May 16 outside their Perry Township apartment. He told authorities she was struggling with him over his service weapon.

Wright, 35, has been assigned to restricted duty, such as a desk job, since the shooting, but has not yet returned to work because of stress, Columbus Police Lt. Ty Brust said.

Investigators are awaiting lab reports from the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Identification and Investigation before sending the case to the county prosecutor's office. Evidence could go before a grand jury by the middle of next week, said sheriff's detective Zachary Scott.

The Wrights had been arguing at their home at 2591 Scioto View Lane before the shooting at about 11:30 a.m. Wright told investigators that, after the argument, he took his gun, a Smith & Wesson .45-caliber semiautomatic, and left the house.

He told his wife she "would not have to deal with him much longer,'' according to a search warrant filed by the sheriff's office.

Wright walked to his car, placed the gun in the middle console and sat in the driver's seat. He told investigators that his wife entered the passenger side, grabbed the gun and was shot in the upper chest during a struggle for it.

"I'm a police officer,'' Wright can be heard frantically saying on a tape of his 911 call. "My wife went to get my gun from me, and she shot herself. Please hurry. Please hurry.''

Jan Wright died a short time later at Ohio State University Medical Center.

The gun requires no preparation to fire once it is loaded, said ordnance Sgt. Dana Winship. "All you have to do is pull the trigger and it will go bang.''

Officers are permitted to keep loaded weapons at home, Winship said.

After an employment interview with Wright in July 1999, police Sgt. Theresa Francis said he appeared to sugarcoat and downplay marital and family problems.

Francis also was concerned that Wright said he had gained 110 pounds because of a poor marriage and then lost the weight, and he had recently quit a two-pack-a-day cigarette habit. She viewed that as "obsessive behavior tendencies,'' she wrote in a report.

Wright also said he had disputes with his wife about his smoking, Francis wrote, and she noted that he repeatedly failed to address her as "sergeant'' or "ma'am.''

Wright's lack of respect for superiors also concerned another of the three review-board interviewers.

"Wished I saw more respect for board members. Hopefully, training academy staff can help mold him,'' wrote Officer Gary Roush.

On the other hand, Wright scored points with board members for being articulate, having prior police experience and a sense of humor.

Wright also told the review panel that mounting bills because of medical problems with one of his children forced him to file for bankruptcy in 1988. He claimed debts of $35,000. Details were not available.

Wright has received five speeding tickets since 1984. His license was suspended for two months in 1996 when he was stopped for speeding and didn't have proof of car insurance.

In a June 1999 polygraph test Wright took as a condition of employment, he admitted to shoplifting as a child, stealing hotel towels as an adult and smoking marijuana three to five times in 1986.

Before becoming a Columbus officer, he was a part-time officer with the St. Louisville, Ohio, police department and an auxiliary officer with Kirkersville, Ohio, police. He quit both jobs for full-time work and higher pay, his personnel records show.

In 1993, Wright was a humane officer with the Capital Area Humane Society. He was fired because of a personal dispute, records show. In 1995 and 1996, he was a truck driver.

Wright and his first wife, Joyce, divorced in 1997 after 10 years of marriage. They had two daughters. He married Jan a year later.

Until about six months ago, the Wrights had lived at Sid Griffith Equestrian Center near Hilliard, working in exchange for rent, said owner Sid Griffith.

"I have no doubt in my mind that those two loved each other very much,'' he said. "There were no major problems here at all.''

Jan Wright's relatives have said that her husband's third-shift hours -- 11 p.m. to 7 a.m. -- had strained the marriage.

But Lt. Brust, one of Wright's supervisors, said Wright never shared any serious concerns with him or other supervisors.

"He was always personable to me, always respectful,'' Brust said.

Third shift can be appealing to officers with families because they can share evening and after-school hours, he said.

But the hours are physically challenging "because your body says you should be sleeping and you're not.''

(1) Jan Wright died after she was shot while struggling with her husband for his gun.
(2) Columbus Police Officer Richard Wright hasn't returned to work since the shooting.

All content herein is 2001 The Columbus Dispatch and may not be republished without permission.