Former police chief wonâ€™t be charged
Investigation finds evidence room irregularities, but no laws broken
By Daniel Silliman
http://www.news-daily.com/local/local_s ... ndarystory
Former Jonesboro Police Chief Jim Roberts may not have carefully reviewed documents he signed, but there is no evidence he did anything illegal, according to the Clayton County District Attorneyâ€™s office.
In a report filed Friday summarizing the Georgia Bureau of Investigationâ€™s two-month inquiry into the disposal of a moped from the departmentâ€™s evidence room, District Attorney Jewel Scott said her office will not to press charges against the former chief or the sergeant in charge of evidence.
But while it recommends not seeking an indictment, the report, prepared by chief assistant DA Todd Naugle, outlines evidence room irregularities brought to light by the GBI, including the discovery of several guns and $6,000 cash without documentation.
The decision not to press charges doesnâ€™t, however, feel like a vindication to Robertsâ€™ supporters, who have questioned the length of the investigation.
â€œIt still seems kind of questionable the way things happened,â€ said Rick Yonce, a Jonesboro City Councilman and friend of Roberts.
The GBI began an investigation on Oct. 17 after a confidential informant notified the district attorney that posters had gone up around the Atlanta area advertising the sale of a moped that was supposed to be in the departmentâ€™s evidence room, Scott said.
After interviewing Sgt. Brian Fornal and Roberts, the GBI suspected the men may have falsified paperwork.
Two documents signed by both officers were dated Oct. 19, 2005, but had actually been created and signed a year later, on the morning they were interviewed.
â€œAfter some questioning about the authenticity of the documents,â€ Fornal told agents the paperwork had been filled out and approved the year before, but couldnâ€™t be found, the report said. The new paperwork had been made as a replacement.
Roberts told the GBI agents the documents requesting and approving the mopedâ€™s disposal â€œwere probably signed on the date reflected on the document,â€ but later admitted he had signed them that day.
He said the document had been brought to him by Fornal in an attempt to create a paper trail for the investigation. He then said he didnâ€™t know when the documents were signed, the report said.
â€œRobertsâ€™ claim is curious to the extent that an approval for the disposal of the moped dated that morning does not put JPD in any better light with regard to the GBI investigation. The moped had long since been released,â€ the district attorneyâ€™s report said. â€œAn approval document dated that morning would not accomplish much more than lock the barn door long after the horses had fled.â€
According to the district attorneyâ€™s office, Roberts may have signed an official police document without reading it, without considering its merit, or without understanding how the paper work was supposed to be processed, but it was not a crime.
â€œNo matter how unflattering this defense may be to Robertsâ€™ reputation for competence as a police chief, the state cannot prove he has violated the law regarding the document he signed,â€ the report said.
The police chief and the sergeant in charge of the evidence room sent letters of resignation to Jonesboro Mayor Joy Day three days after being interviewed by GBI agents.
The GBI seized the department computers used by Roberts and Fornal and found the original document requesting approval for the disposal of the moped in 2005. They didnâ€™t find the document approving the release.
It is not illegal to reproduce a lost document, if it is identical to the original, according to the report. It is a normal part of business to lose documents if they are kept for any length of time, the report said, but it is â€œnot an acceptable practiceâ€ to label the recreation â€œCOPYâ€ without pointing out that it is a replacement copy and noting that it was generated later.
The DAâ€™s report said that without evidence the documents generated and signed were intentionally fraudulent or inaccurate, no crime was committed.
The GBI and the district attorney also found, during the course of the investigation, that four stolen guitars in the departmentâ€™s evidence room had been donated in October to a church Fornal was affiliated with, while the theft case was still pending. There is no evidence Fornal or Roberts intended to improperly dispose of evidence in an active case, but they may have misunderstood the law, the report said.
â€œBoth Fornal and Roberts may have labored under the mistaken belief that property held by the JPD for more than 90 days was eligible for disposal at the whim of the agency,â€ when actually evidence room property can only be gotten rid of 90 days after prosecutors no longer need it, with court approval, and if it is still unclaimed by the owner, the report said.
The report also notes about $6,000 in cash found in the evidence room without any paperwork, and several guns without any paperwork. The DA noted a prior drug case had to be dismissed because of the departmentâ€™s failure to honor repeated requests to have the drugs sent to the GBI for examination.
The report said there was no indication of what happened to those drugs.
Roberts sent a letter to the city council on Jan. 5, Yonce said, saying he didnâ€™t want to be reinstated to the police chief position even if no charges were filed.
Robertsâ€™ attorney, Steve Frey, said the chief never believed he had done anything wrong.
â€œThere was a cloud and the cloudâ€™s broken up now and the sunâ€™s shining on his back,â€ Frey said.
A new police chief is expected to be sworn in by the end of the month, Yonce said.