Missing TV leads to charge for Portsmouth officer

The Virginian-Pilot, hamptonroads.com
BYLINE: Patrick Wilson
Link to Article

Portsmouth, VA

2011-10-03_Missing TV leads to charge for Portsmouth officer_01
A grand jury indicted Officer Robert Anthony Murray on a charge of embezzlement.

PORTSMOUTH

Missing evidence from the Police Department has led to a Virginia State Police investigation, a felony indictment against an officer, and the need for a special judge and prosecutor.

At the root of it is a television.

A grand jury indicted Officer Robert Anthony Murray in May on a charge of felony embezzlement. He is on unpaid suspension. A retired judge handling the case is to rule on Murray’s argument that statements he made to his commanders cannot be used in a criminal case against him without violating his constitutional safeguards. A retired judge and outside prosecutor are used because the defendant is a Portsmouth police officer.

According to court records, here’s how the situation developed:

Police executed two search warrants on July 2, 2009, as they investigated illegal gambling. Property, including the television, was seized from locations on Victory Boulevard and Airline Boulevard. The TV was not tagged as evidence or stored in a secure area, but was placed in a hallway of the Police Department’s Tactical Response Unit.

In September 2010, more than a year later, the commonwealth’s attorney’s office dropped criminal charges against the defendants. Police needed to return the seized property.

But the TV was missing.

On Sept. 17, Sgt. Todd Thursby sent a text message to the Tactical Response Unit: “I do not know who it was but that TV better be here on Monday morning,” he wrote, according to a filing by Murray. “No questions if it’s here. If it’s not a full investigation will occur to include video.”

Murray contacted Thursby and told him the TV would be returned, and he did so. But on Monday morning, Murray was asked to go to his lieutenant’s office, where two lieutenants questioned him about the TV.

Murray says he asked whether he was required to answer and was told, “Yes you do.”

He admitted he returned the missing television to the office but said, according to witness statements, that it had been in possession of a former officer who had left after an administrative investigation.

Murray was then notified on Nov. 12 that he was the subject of an administrative investigation by the department’s Professional Standards Unit.

Murray is asking Judge Marc Jacobson to suppress all statements he made. Failure to answer the questions could have led to his firing, he claims.

“Murray’s Fifth Amendment right to be free from self–incrimination was violated when he was forced to choose between making statements which subjected him to criminal liability and invoking his Fifth Amendment rights, which would subject him to dismissal from his job,” he argued in a motion.

He also cited a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that says statements coerced from officers during administrative investigations may not be used against them in a criminal case.

George Bruch, an assistant commonwealth’s attorney in Suffolk who is a special prosecutor in the case, responded that statements from Murray were not coerced, and his initial answers came before any administrative investigation.

The lieutenants asked him about the television out of curiosity, Bruch argued in a motion.

Patrick Wilson, (757) 769-3351, , http://twitter.com/#!/patrickmwilson

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