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State Police investigating Heights police dept.

Muskegon Chronicle (Michigan), A; Pg. 1

Muskegon Heights, MI

MUSKEGON HEIGHTS -- The Muskegon Heights Police Department has not properly secured evidence from hundreds of cases in its property room, prosecutors say, and State Police investigators believe money is missing from the room.

Muskegon County Prosecutor Tony Tague said Wednesday that an audit began more than a month ago of the police department's evidence room after then-Acting Chief Ron Rake cited concerns.

"The evidence room was in complete disarray, and my office as well as the State Police were concerned about the security procedures in reference to the access of that evidence room," Tague said.

"At this point, we are working with Muskegon Heights to set into place proper procedures, and there is an ongoing investigation to determine whether there was any criminal activity."

It was not clear Wednesday what, if anything, had been taken from the room, Tague said.

But the amount of evidence -- including money, weapons and drugs -- in the room was "overwhelming," Tague said, built up from "literally hundreds of cases."

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.

However, that wasn't happening at the Muskegon Heights department, Tague said.

"Depending on the severity of the case, usually a police department works with my office about a standard time frame of disposing of evidence. Unfortunately, it appears that did not occur," Tague said.

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

It is not unusual for a police department to keep money in an evidence room, Tague said.

The prosecutor said he isn't concerned that the problem could undermine pending criminal prosecutions or past convictions in cases investigated by Muskegon Heights police.

"We haven't seen any tampering with evidence that would impact cases," Tague said. "However, we're certainly concerned if any drugs or money might be missing in a pending case."

He said a defense attorney would have to be able to point to a specific flaw -- such as an evidence box with a damaged seal -- in order to establish that the "chain of evidence" had been broken. No such problems have surfaced, and a generalized claim based on the evidence room's "complete disarray" isn't sufficient, Tague said.

Authorities from the Michigan State Police Sixth District headquarters in Grand Rapids said its detectives are conducting the investigation.

State Police Detective Lt. Curt Schram said city officials and the police department are cooperating. "The police department is assisting us in the investigation. That has to be clear," he said.

In a press release, the State Police said an audit began several weeks ago of "some possible discrepancies into monies received by the Muskegon Heights Police Department.

"As a result of the ongoing audit, detectives believe that monies are missing from the property room of the police department," the press release said.

Rake resigned from the Muskegon Heights department in April and works as a deputy for the Muskegon County Sheriff's Office.

On Wednesday, Rake confirmed that he alerted authorities to the situation, but he declined to comment further. He was brought in as interim chief after the unexpected Nov. 1 death of 47-year-old Chief Clifton Johnson. Rake had worked at the Muskegon Heights department as a lieutenant several years ago.

Mayor Darrell Paige said Wednesday during a city hall press conference that the city supported the investigation and will continue to cooperate with authorities.

Muskegon Heights Lt. Lynne Gill, the current acting police chief, could not be reached for comment.


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International Association for Property and Evidence
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