MUSKEGON HEIGHTS, Mich. (WOOD) - No matter what the outcome of the investigation into theMuskegon Heights Police Department, the damage may already havebeen done.
"No matter what happens, it's going to create a headache for thepolice in that jurisdiction, as well as the courts," said DennisKolenda, an attorney and former Kent County judge.
After nearly 20 years in his position, Kolenda said, even theappearance of impropriety can cause pretty severe damage to apolice department.
"Juries will know about it and there's always the risk that, inthe back of their mind, even if there's nothing said, (there) willbe a question -- this is a Heights case, isn't that the place wherethey had the evidence problem?" he told 24 Hour News 8 onWednesday.
The Michigan State Police started investigating the departmentin March. But what started as an audit of a messy evidence room hasbecome an investigation into missing money and potential misconduct-- which Kolenda said could jeopardize both pending and closedcases.
"Every defense lawyer is going to raise in front of a judge andjury the risk that the investigation is tainted because they didsomething inappropriate in another case," Kolenda said. "If aninvestigation shows a pattern and practice, not just odd misconducthere or there, there's going to be very real questions to whetherit did carry over into other evidence."
But, he stressed, in the hundreds of cases he presided over,Kolenda only encountered one case where misconduct played asignificant role.
"Not everything is going to go smooth every day, but that ithits a bump every once in a while doesn't mean it's a systemicproblem," Kolenda said.
He hopes the public doesn't make a decision about the departmentuntil the state police finish their investigation.
"If something inappropriate happens, people need to be upsetabout that," Kolenda said. "They need to straighten it out, butthey shouldn't conclude that it's immediately a big problem,because it may not be."
No officers have been disciplined. When the investigation iscomplete, it will be forwarded to the Muskegon County Prosecutor'sOffice, which will decide whether to file any criminal charges.
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