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CARLSBAD: Ex-police officer gets probation for heroin theft

North County Times,
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Carlsbad, CA

Defendant Michael Koch, center, stands with his attorney, Raymond Gomez, at his sentencing at the Vista courthouse Wednesday. BILL WECHTER |

A former Carlsbad narcotics officer caught stealing heroin from the police evidence room was sentenced Wednesday in a plea deal that gave him probation, but no jail time.

The officer, Michael C. Koch, 44, had served 18 years with the department before two employees reported seeing him steal drugs from the evidence room on Jan. 19, Carlsbad police said.

He was immediately placed on administrative leave but continued to draw his annual salary of more than $86,000 until he was fired May 30 following an internal investigation into the matter, spokeswoman Jodee Sasway said Wednesday.

Koch stole the drugs for personal use, and there was no indication that he planned to sell them or use them to plant false evidence on a suspect, San Diego County Deputy District Attorney Paul Azevedo said.

Charged with felony second-degree burglary and possession of drugs, Koch pleaded guilty on May 17 to the top crime ---- burglary ---- in a deal to get three years of probation.

"We look at lots of criteria on every case and we thought this was an appropriate sanction for a guy who lost his job and has aggressively attacked his treatment," prosecutor Azevedo said.

Koch's attorney, Raymond Gomez, said that his client "has made a significant effort" toward his recovery, including residential drug treatment and participation in 12-step programs, including Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous.

Gomez also said Koch has taken a number of random drug tests, all of which have come back clean.

"He's made dramatic changes in his life," Gomez said.

Koch did not make a formal statement to San Diego Superior Court Judge Kimberlee Lagotta during his sentencing.

Lagotta sentenced Koch to three years of formal probation and suspended a 180-day jail sentence.

First-time offenders in drug cases often do not get jail time but instead are sentenced to diversion programs. Prosecutors could not provide statistics Wednesday as to how many first-time offenders in burglary cases have been sentenced to jail.

In 2000, Koch was named in a federal civil-rights lawsuit accusing Koch and another officer of barging into a closed real estate office and arresting its owner, minutes after she made a sarcastic remark to them.

The owner and another person in the office received injuries and spent a night in Vista jail before being released the next day with no charges against them, according to the lawsuit.

The city of Carlsbad settled the suit in 2001 for an undisclosed amount of money.

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