Burlington Free Press, burlingtonfreepress.com
BYLINE: Mike Donoghue, Free Press Staff Writer
Colchester Police Memo on Missing Evidence or Property
Executive Summary of Colchester Investigators
Vermont State Police Evidence Audit %26amp; Policy Assessment
Statement of Chief Morrison
Updated General Order on Citizen Complaints and Internal Affairs
Updated General Order on Property and Evidence Management
Tyler Kinney arrives in Burlington to be fitted with a GPS monitor following his release from jail in November following his arrest on federal gun and drug charges.
(Photo: RYAN MERCER/FREE PRESS FILE)
Colchester police missed multiple opportunities to discover that a longtime detective was a heroin addict and possibly stealing drugs, guns and other property from the evidence locker.
That's the conclusion from a new independent investigation into the department's handling of the case of Tyler Kinney.
The report, released by the town Wednesday, notes Colchester police received allegations in June that Kinney, a detective corporal, was involved in an improper sexual relationship with a suspect and using heroin with the man.
Two police commanders rejected the accusations as unfounded but never filed the mandated reports, the investigation noted.
Those allegations turned out to be true, the report and court papers state.
Also, Colchester police employees had gone more than 20 years without receiving individual performance evaluations until Police Chief Jennifer Morrison arrived in July 2013.
"I'm not interested in looking backwards. I'm not casting aspersions on the past. This happened on my watch and I'm accountable for the performance of this agency," Morrison told the Burlington Free Press.
Kinney, 39, of Jericho resigned after his arrest in November on federal heroin and stolen gun charges. The 12-year police veteran was in charge of the police evidence locker from February 2012 until his arrest.
Private investigator Daniel Troidl paints a picture of the evidence locker as a goldmine for Kinney to raid. Two weapons are missing. Nine others are unaccounted for due to incomplete records or the age of the cases, some more than 25 years old.
Kinney stole one handgun from the evidence room and gave it to a convicted felon, Peter Burnett, 25, of Burlington, who said he needed protection, court records show. Burlington police seized drugs and the gun when they raided Burnett's North Avenue apartment Nov. 10, and the police corruption case began to unwind. Burnett has pleaded not guilty to a federal charge of being a felon in possession of a firearm.
Police agencies often refuse to comment on alleged misconduct by officers while criminal charges are pending. But in this case, Colchester officials took the rare step of sharing the results of the independent investigation.
The town released a seven-page executive summary of the investigation by Troidl, a one page statement from Police Chief Jennifer Morrison, a one-page statement from Town Manager Dawn Francis and a five-page Vermont State Police report written Lt. Dee Barbic about policy assessment and an evidence audit.
The state police report, which was done in conjunction with the FBI, makes numerous recommendations for improving the department, including changes to the way evidence is logged, secured and stored.
Colchester police had made some changes on its own even before Barbic's report was filed the Dec. 12. Other suggestions have since been implemented.
Troidl wrote that Kinney's misconduct went unchecked for a long period because of mismanagement or indifference.
He wrote that if "a culture of accountability, tighter evidence controls, performance reviews and tighter supervision existed, his activities as it relates to alleged tampering with evidence and personal behavior may have raised enough suspicion to warrant further review, thereby discovering his activities earlier."
Troidl, a retired captain with Vermont State Police, where he headed internal affairs for about four years, noted that Kinney twice appeared to be going through a drug reaction or withdrawal, but nothing was done, except he was directed to get checked at the hospital.
Troidl also had harsh words for Kinney, who was sworn to uphold the law. "Despite the fact that there were mistakes made and opportunities missed to stop Kinney's transgressions sooner, it is important to remember that the ultimate responsibility for this incident lies with Tyler Kinney," the investigator wrote.
"It was Kinney that disregarded his oath of office, disgraced himself and embarrassed Colchester PD. It was Kinney, who chose to befriend an individual with a known criminal history, chose to use heroin and chose to support his habit by stealing the evidence he was entrusted to secure."
Troidl noted when Morrison assumed command, she quickly learned the department needed a major overhaul, including performance evaluations of all employees and creating updated policies. He said she has updated about half the general orders used to direct the department.
Chittenden County State's Attorney T.J. Donovan has said his office has dismissed drug charges against about a half dozen defendants and more could be coming because of Kinney's arrest.
Attempts to reach Kinney's defense lawyer, John Pacht, were unsuccessful.
Need for transparency
The town told Troidl to look in every corner during his wide-ranging investigation. The report notes Troidl interviewed every Colchester police officer and civilian employee, including emergency dispatchers and administrative staff.
All employees were initially asked the same eight questions, some about Kinney, his drug problem and his friends. Troidl followed up those responses.
Morrison and her boss, Town Manager Francis, said being as transparent as possible was essential for the town. Francis said it was part of a plan to "regain the public's trust."
Morrison said numerous corrective steps have been taken since Kinney's arrest. Colchester became the first police agency in Vermont to buy a bar-coding evidence system that will inventory evidence and track any items being moved, she said.
The system costs nearly $15,000 for hardware and software. When evidence is removed from the police department but not scanned at the state lab within a limited time, emails are generated to several key people, Morrison said.
The report notes deficiencies with evidence procedures and other problems in the department date back years, to the time when Charles Kirker was chief. Some policies date back to the 1980s.
Attempts to reach former Colchester Police Chief Charles Kirker were unsuccessful. Kirker served the town for 43 years, including 34 year as the town's second police chief. He took over for Ron Smith, who was named chief when the one-man department was created in the mid 1960s.
The FBI, assisted by the Vermont State Police, conducted an audit of the Colchester police evidence locker.
Certain records appear to have been changed, deleted or not entered during Kinney's tenure, which may be skewing the current inventory, Lt. Doug Allen wrote in a memo to Chief Morrison.
Up to $12,229 in cash is missing or unaccounted for from the Colchester police. The report does not say what happened to the money.
The report says the worst-case scenario shows impacts on the following:
* 12 cases involving up to 1,284 bags of heroin.
* 73 cases involving marijuana or hashish, and 27 with drug paraphernalia.
* Four cocaine cases.
* About 15 cases involving pills or other missing evidence.
The lack of proper response to a citizen's complaint about Kinney's using drugs and being involved in a sexual affair with a defendant prompted the town to modify its 10-page policy on handling complaints from the public. The update requires that any claim of felonious criminal behavior against any Colchester police employee be referred to an outside agency for investigation.
Following Kinney's arrest, Colchester police had refused to answer questions from the Burlington Free Press about the complaint, made in June, or even acknowledging it had been made.
The misconduct claim stems from last year when the suspect, Peter Burnett, was living in Essex Junction. A woman and her boyfriend who lived nearby was suspicious of Kinney's involvement with Burnett and about possible drug use. The private investigator determined a car being used in the relationship was registered to Kinney.
The report does not include Burnett's name — attempts were made to black out the name with marker in the documents released Wednesday — but his identity is available in other public records, including court documents.
The reports notes there were two misconduct complaints filed in June about Kinney. One complaint to Colchester police came from a veteran Chittenden County police officer, while the second came from a retired police detective who now works as a private investigator.
Detective Sgt. Charles Cole and Lt. Doug Allen, who were among those who fielded the two complaints and conducted the administrative review, determined that one woman was the original source of both complaints.
"We spent the better part of a week with multiple investigators involved," Morrison said Wednesday. Kinney denied any misconduct, and the case was closed without initiating an internal affairs investigation, private investigator Troidl wrote.
Another red flag was raised Oct. 24 when a Colchester police officer asked Kinney to re-weigh some seized marijuana in a pending case. The officer noted discrepancies between what he tagged as evidence and what Kinney had provided him to re-weigh. Also, some of the original evidence packaging was missing, Troidl wrote.
The concerned officer reported the incident to a supervisor as required by department orders, but that supervisor did not follow through as required, including notifying the chief of the discrepancy.
The names of the officer reporting the misconduct and the sergeant who failed to act were not listed in the public report.
There also is some question whether Kinney might have obtained narcotics through the department's drop box in the police department lobby. Kinney was responsible for cleaning the box out from time to time, but there were no records kept of what was drugs had come in.
Morrison said she ordered the old locked mailbox removed a few days after Kinney's arrest.
Barbic, the state police investigator, who was assisted by Detective Lt. Lance Burnham and FBI Agent Jennie Emmons for the evidence review, also recommended doing away with the box because of the lack of accountability.
Morrison repeatedly refused to talk with the Burlington Free Press about past policies and problems that she inherited from retired Police Chief Kirker.
Francis, the town manager, was equally silent.
"I'm not going to pass judgment on the previous administration," she said. "It's about moving forward."
The report did say there were steps might have taken to avert some problems, including the failure to periodic audits of the evidence room as required by policy.
Francis declined to say how many current and past employees faced discipline or having letters placed in their personnel file. She deferred the question to Morrison.
Morrison said Kinney's arrest happened on her watch, and she would accept responsibility.
She said she had not received any letter of reprimand as of Wednesday. She declined to talk about any discipline that she might hand out to employees.
"I will accept whatever discipline the town manager deems appropriate," said Morrison, who was a deputy police chief in Burlington before taking the Colchester post.
Francis said it is regrettable that some Colchester policies and best practices were not followed, but she still supports the efforts of the chief.
"I am supportive of Chief Morrison's leadership and believe she has the support of the Department employees and the Colchester Selectboard to move the Department forward," she wrote.
Francis said Morrison and the police department have received strong support since Kinney's arrest Nov. 11.
"Our sincere hope is that the actions of Tyler Kinney do not cast doubt on the rest of the department who work tirelessly to protect Colchester," Francis said.
Kinney, who has pleaded not guilty to the three-count federal indictment, told investigators he had been hooked on opiates for more than a year, records show.
He was sent to a residential drug rehab center in Rutland County for three weeks after his arrest and was due to continue with outpatient assistance, his defense lawyer, John Pacht, has said.
If convicted, Kinney faces up to 20 years in prison.
New Colchester Police Chief Jennifer Morrison is sworn in July of 2013.
(Photo: MIKE DONOGHUE/FREE PRESS, MIKE DONOGHUE/FREE PRESS)
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