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Ex-Altoona detective charged with felonies, accused of switching seized pills with other meds

Authorities accuse Copeland of switching pills seized during criminal investigations in 2017 with over-the-counter medication. The pills were kept in temporary evidence lockers at the Altoona Police Department.

October 17, 2018

A former Altoona police detective who resigned in April to avoid termination has been charged with four felonies after he switched seized pills with over-the-counter medication, authorities said.

Joshua James Copeland, 39, was charged with two counts of felonious misconduct in office, two counts of forgery and one count of possession of a controlled substance, a serious misdemeanor. He was arrested Monday night by Altoona police.

His attorney entered a plea of not guilty Wednesday morning, court records show.

In charging documents, authorities accuse Copeland of switching pills seized during criminal investigations in 2017 with over-the-counter medication. The pills were kept in temporary evidence lockers at the Altoona Police Department.

In two instances, authorities said original evidence package was missing and new packaging was forged and placed in the locker. Court records show an Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation criminalist determined handwriting on the forged evidence packaging matched Copeland's writing.

One of the switches was noticed by a criminalist at the state crime lab; the other was found by an evidence custodian at the police department, court documents show.

Authorities also found a small amount of methamphetamine in a squad car assigned to Copeland, according to a criminal complaint. Records show Copeland later tested positive for meth in a submitted blood sample.

Copeland was a nine-year veteran of the Altoona police force, where he was one of three general detectives; a fourth detective works in narcotics.

A disciplinary record showed he resigned April 20 in lieu of termination. He earned $32.34 an hour at the time of his resignation.

A warrant for Copeland's arrest was issued Thursday. He was booked in the Polk County Jail shortly before 8 p.m. Monday after he was arrested at his home. He was released about an hour later after posting a $21,000 bond.

Copeland declined to comment when a Register reporter visited his home in April. He could not immediately be reached Tuesday.

State investigators were not sure what happened to the pills that went missing, DCI Special Agent in Charge Mike Motsinger said. Asked if Copeland could have switched the drugs more than twice, Motsinger said his agency is "pretty certain we have everything covered."

Law enforcement officials said they were unsure why Copeland allegedly switched the drugs.

"That's the million-dollar question," Altoona Lt. Jason Ferguson said. "And we may never know."

Polk County Attorney John Sarcone said he does not expect other charges to be filed.

"I just think it's sad all the way around," Sarcone said. "It's not what police officers do."

Altoona Police Chief Greg Stallman also said the case has not been easy on his officers and that law enforcement is "not immune from having those types of issues."

Copeland did not have an attorney listed in court records who could be reached for comment as of Tuesday afternoon. Altoona attorney Bob Laden did not respond to requests for comment.

The arrest comes two years after two metro officers resigned when they were accused of mishandling drugs and planting meth on a suspect.

Since that case, two men have sued the former Des Moines officers, Joshua Judge and Tyson Teut, and the department; a third lawsuit was dismissed. Teut was sentenced to probation in June after he pleaded guilty to non-felonious misconduct in office. Judge has not been charged.

Earlier this month, a woman was accused of taking prescription drugs that had been turned in at the Mason City Police Department. Melinda Severs, 43, of Dumont, has been criminally charged and no longer works for the department.

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