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Muskegon Heights police evidence room:

MLive Media Group,
BYLINE: John S. Hausman |

Muskegon Heights, MI

insufficient evidence for criminal charges, longtime prosecutor says

MUSKEGON HEIGHTS, MI – The Muskegon County Prosecutor’s Office concluded more than a year ago that there was insufficient evidence to charge anyone with a crime for what may have been tens of thousands of dollars missing in early 2010 from the Muskegon Heights Police Department evidence room.

The “total disarray” in the evidence room, the lack of proper documentation of money transactions for years, and uncontrolled access to the room made it impossible to prove even that money was stolen, let alone who might have done so if it was, according to a memo this week from Chief Assistant Prosecutor Brett Gardner to Michigan State Police Lt. Cam Henke.

Gardner’s Jan. 29 memo, obtained by MLive and The Muskegon Chronicle, “memorializes a communication” between the prosecutor’s office and the state police “over a year ago.”

Gardner, the longtime chief assistant to recently retired prosecutor Tony Tague, said he is making the decision public because the people have a right to know.

"It was an extensive investigation, and I believe that people have a right to know that the investigation is concluded, and the results of the investigation and our decision," Gardner said Friday, Feb. 1.

RELATED: Michigan State Police on ruling in Muskegon Heights evidence room case: Detectives conducted a 'thorough investigation'

The prosecutor’s office concluded that criminal charges couldn’t be brought based on a lengthy, massive investigation by the state police.

The investigation was launched in April 2010 after then-acting Muskegon Heights Police Chief Ron Rake alerted authorities to the unorganized condition of the department’s evidence room and indicated money appeared to be missing. Rake was brought in as interim chief after the unexpected death Nov. 1, 2009, of Chief Clifton Johnson.

Authorities made it clear early on that neither current Police Chief Lynne Gill nor any “city government” officials were involved.

According to Gardner’s memo, the state police investigation took almost a year to complete, with more than 1,000 pages of supporting documentation. It included additional follow-up investigation requested by the prosecutor’s office.

The memo is scathing about procedures in the department’s evidence room before Rake took over as interim chief. Those procedures have since been remedied.

“Investigators discovered a police department lacking proper evidence room policies and procedures where the basics of evidence collection, storage, audit, access and destruction had not been followed for years,” Gardner wrote.

“As a result, state investigators were confronted with dumpster loads of evidence strewn about the area in no particular order. Instead of utilizing established police procedures for the retention, tracking and auditing of money, evidence room personnel had created their own system, consisting of money ledgers, with no attempts over the years to audit or reconcile ledger entries to monies in the evidence room,” Gardner wrote.

Procedures were so sloppy and error-filled that it couldn’t be proven money was missing, Gardner wrote.

“The state police investigation proved conclusively that evidence room personnel failed to account for tens of thousands of dollars by repeated errors in recordation and in outright failures to enter transactions in the ledgers, leading the state police to conclude that the money purportedly missing from the evidence room could have been legitimately disposed of, without proper documentation as to the disposition.”

Even if it could be proven that money was missing, “the field of potential suspects cannot be narrowed because access to the evidence room was not properly controlled,” Gardner wrote.

“There were readily available keys to the evidence areas, missing keys, unchanged locks, a propped vault door and a money cabinet left unlocked,” the prosecutor wrote.

MLive and The Muskegon Chronicle will be following this story.

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