State Police: Heights police probe to take longer

Muskegon Chronicle (Michigan), A; Pg. 3
BYLINE: HEATHER LYNN PETERS

Muskegon Heights, MI

MUSKEGON HEIGHTS -- The State Police investigation of the Muskegon Heights Police Department is a "significant" case that's already required many hours of manpower, according to a lead investigator.

And it will be months before the results of the probe -- centering on the department's evidence storage room -- are turned over to the Muskegon County Prosecutor's office for review of possible charges, said Detective Lt. Curt Schram, of the Michigan State Police Sixth District headquarters in Grand Rapids.

As part of the complex investigation, Schram said police and city hall employees have been interviewed.

"It's time consuming, and there are a lot of man hours involved in this," Schram said. "This is a significant case, and we're going to do it right. It is going to take some time."

The investigation began in April after the then-acting police chief, Ron Rake, alerted authorities to the unorganized condition of the department's evidence room and that money appeared to be missing.

Rake -- who was brought in as interim chief after the unexpected Nov. 1 death of Chief Clifton Johnson -- has since resigned and works as a deputy for the Muskegon County Sheriff's office. Muskegon Heights Police Lt. Lynne Gill is expected to be named the department's next police chief.

Schram is quick to point out that Rake and Gill were "not involved" in any wrongdoing. At this point, Schram said to his knowledge no one at the police department or city has been reprimanded.

"The department is cooperating, and the city is cooperating with the investigation," Schram said.

So far, numerous state troopers and investigators have been involved in the tedious investigation process, Schram said.

"We had troopers there in April, three or four times a week, going through the property room," Schram said.

"We've pretty much weaned our way out of there, but there were several detectives involved and a couple of troopers."

Schram said he was last at the police department on Wednesday.

Investigators remain immersed in a complicated auditing process while some are still "analyzing records," Schram said.

Authorities haven't disclosed how much money they believe is missing from the evidence room, which, according to Muskegon County Prosecutor Tony Tague, was in "complete disarray" when investigators arrived.

State Police and Muskegon Heights police officials now are working together "to set into place proper procedures" concerning the evidence room, Tague has said.

The amount of evidence crammed in the department's property room -- including money, weapons and drugs -- was "overwhelming," built up from literally "hundreds of cases," Tague said The standard for most departments is to auction off some property, return property to its owners and, in some cases, destroy some pieces of evidence after a certain period of time. That wasn't happening at the Muskegon Heights department, Tague said.

The investigation will reveal "who may have been involved," if money or other pieces of evidence have been taken from the room, Tague said.

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