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Baker: Grand larceny wasn't strongest case against Speed

The Evening Tribune,
BYLINE: Neal Simon, The Evening Tribune

Hornell, NY

Former Hornell police officer admits tampering with public records

SPEED BATH — Jennifer A. Speed, the former Hornell Police officer and senior evidence room custodian, pleaded guilty Monday morning to felony first-degree tampering with public records in satisfaction of all the charges she faced.

Speed's plea, which came just moments before the scheduled start of her trial in the county courtroom of Judge Peter C. Bradstreet, leaves open the question of who stole $15,000 in cash, some of it blood stained, from the Hornell PD evidence room.

Speed, who will be under interim supervision for one year prior to sentencing, has always denied taking the money, which had been confiscated from attempted murder suspect Steven Brockway of Canisteo after his arrest for stabbing Fred Tigner on March 10, 2012.

In June of 2013, Brockway pleaded guilty to second-degree burglary and third-degree witness tampering in full satisfaction of all charges. It was after the announcement of the Brockway plea bargain that authorities learned that the $15,000, which was slated to be used for victim compensation, was missing from the Hornell Police Department evidence locker.

When a week-long search failed to turn up the money, District Attorney Brooks Baker and Hornell Police Chief Ted Murray asked the New York State Police to conduct a probe. The State Police investigation collected statements and evidence, and a Steuben County Grand Jury began considering the case in October of 2013. Speed was arrested in December of 2013 on the felony indictments.

In addition to tampering with public records, Speed had pleaded innocent to five other felonies, including third-degree grand larceny, two counts of first-degree falsifying business records and two counts of tampering with physical evidence.

Speed could eventually be sentenced to prison, probation or a combination of the two, depending on her conduct during the next 12 months, court officials said. Class D felonies sentences can range from no jail, probation, and 1-3 to 7 years.

The Evening Tribune left three messages for Speed's attorney James L. Riotto. The calls were not returned.

While she did not admit stealing the $15,000 as part of her plea deal, Speed has been "ordered to pay restitution (to the City of Hornell) for the losses not covered by insurance," Baker said.

Baker explained the plea arrangement from the prosecution's point of view. The district attorney said tampering with public records was at least equal to the highest felony level charged and the people's "strongest, most provable case."

Baker said if the case had gone to trial and Speed had been convicted of additional felonies, each of the sentences would have run concurrently, meaning she would serve all the sentences at the same time.

He noted that while Speed has always denied making off with the blood-soaked cash, she admitted to State Police investigators that she tampered with evidence sheets in the Brockway case. Her motive?

"To make herself look better," Baker said. The DA suggested that Speed was reluctant to face cross examination in the Brockway case and be confronted by inaccurate record keeping. So she cleaned it up, Baker said.

As for the missing money, no one has ever reported seeing it again. In connection with the grand larceny counts against Speed, prosecutors did not have any physical evidence or incriminating statements from Speed. Baker said five people had access to the evidence room. Four were set to testify, the fifth would have been on trial.

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