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Registered sex offender accused of photographing children at Northeast Ohio swim meets, including CSU

August 9, 2018

Registered sex offender accused of photographing children at Northeast Ohio swim meets, including CSU

HARPERSFIELD TOWNSHIP, Ohio -- A former television news reporter and registered sex offender was arrested Sunday by the Ashtabula County Sheriff’s Office after taking photos of children at a 14-and-under swim meet near Geneva, according to police records. 

James F. Renick, 69, of Beech Grove, Indiana was charged with a first-degree misdemeanor of obstructing official business, court records show.

Police received a call Sunday morning to Spire Sports Center Complex and Academy at 5201 Spire Circle, the site of a youth swimming meet. Staff told police they got concerned over a man taking photographs of the swimmers, all of whom were 14 years old or younger.

A witness told police the man was seen taking photographs of events in Columbus and Canton and at Cleveland State University and Purdue University in Indianapolis, according to the police report. 

Police spoke with concerned staff members, parents and spectators. Staff said they told the man he was permitted to take photos of the swimmers in a certain part of the water. Police observed him taking pictures of children while they stood in a restricted area.

The man, later identified as Renick, appeared very nervous when officers asked for his identification, according to the police report. His hands shook as he fumbled to remove an SD card from his camera and switch it with another from a small pouch.

Police say Renick changed his story multiple times. “I told James that I didn’t believe a word he was saying,” Officer Rob Ginn said in the police report. Renick then said he would leave the facility, prompting Ginn to ask if he was a registered offender or under any condition to prevent him from being around children. Renick said no. 

Renick gave police his driver’s license, revealing that he is a “registered sex offender for life,” according to the police report.

Renick told police he served six years in prison for molesting two boys under 10 years old, and his offender status restricts him from being around children, parks or schools “but he didn’t know if he could be at the Spire Center.” The police report classifies the Spire Center as a school and an arena/stadium. 

Organizers of the swim meet wanted Renick to delete the images on his SD cards, but instead, Renick showed them to police who entered them into evidence. Across three SD cards, he had images of young boys in the diving section of the pool, on a basketball court at a playground and other locations.

Renick was placed under arrest on a charge of obstructing justice by being untruthful with police during their investigation. 

The organizers of the swim meet declined to comment due to the involvement of minors in the incident. A spokesman for the Spire Institute did not immediately respond to a request for comment. 

Renick, a former newscaster on WNEP in Scranton, Pennsylvania, pleaded guilty in 1996 to child molestation charges, police say. In a June 1995 search of Renick’s Pennsylvania home, authorities found “thousands of photographs of young boys naked and in bathing suits,” as well as other sexually explicit material, according to The Allentown Morning Call.

In 2015, Renick was caught with camera equipment outside his Indiana home and was sentenced to an additional two years of probation for breaking a condition of his release, according to The Scranton Times-Tribune. 

Ashtabula County Court Judge David A. Schroeder set Renick’s bond at $25,000 with restrictions against contact with children or photography equipment. Judge Schroeder will preside over preliminary hearings scheduled for Aug. 15 and 21. 

To comment on this story, visit Thursday’s crime and courts comment section.

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