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DA drops cases against 39 people investigated by Monroe police

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Jeff Siner - jsiner@charlotteobserver.com
Union County DA Trey Robison. Jeff Siner - jsiner@charlotteobserver.com

Union County’s district attorney has dismissed cases against 39 people because Monroe police officers failed to provide case files and related work needed for prosecution, the city said Thursday.

The surprise announcement came on the first day of early voting in Monroe, where the controversial, recently retired police chief, Debra Duncan, is running for a seat on the fractious City Council. The dismissals grew out of a routine audit of cases, and their timing had nothing to do with politics, District Attorney Trey Robison said.

New City Manager John D’Agostino called the officers’ actions “inexcusable.”

“The trust and faith of this department in my opinion has been shaken to the core,” D’Agostino told the interim chief in an email Wednesday, which the Observer obtained.

The department is conducting an internal review and making other changes to rectify the problem, D’Agostino said in a statement. “It appears this negligence of duties is not a new issue,” he said.

Most of the cases involved drugs or fraud charges over the past two years. Some defendants faced multiple charges. One case was for assault with a deadly weapon with intent to kill, court records show.

Officers frequently failed to turn over case files to prosecutors and, in some instances, did not submit drugs to a lab for analysis, records show.

In a phone interview from outside the city’s one-stop voting site, Duncan said she is ultimately responsible for what happened during her tenure.

Duncan has been at the center of several recent controversies the City Council has confronted, including the abrupt resignation of its previous manager last year. And if she wins election, Duncan could help shift power to the group that is now in the minority on the council.

She had been chief since mid-2006 and retired Sept. 1.

“Anything that happened under my watch, I’m responsible,” Duncan said.

‘Nothing to do with politics’

In spring 2012, a county judge fined her agency $10,000 because it had not turned over all required evidence in a pending murder case. In the aftermath of that case, Duncan said, the department implemented new case management procedures to ensure that officers’ files were turned over to the district attorney’s office in a timely manner.

“I thought we had taken care of the problem. … I don’t know what happened,” Duncan said. “Had I been told there was a problem, I would have dealt with it on the spot.”

Audit identified cases

The cases that were dismissed were identified during a routine audit of unindicted felony charges, Robison said in a statement.

No defendant was released from jail as a result of the dismissals. It’s also possible the defendants eventually can be prosecuted, depending on the cases and the circumstances, Robison said.

In a brief interview, he said the timing of the dismissals has “absolutely nothing to do with politics of any kind.”

Duncan too said she did not think the timing was politically motivated. “This is not an election issue. It’s a police department issue,” she said.

Monroe’s general election is Oct. 8.

City Council member Margaret Desio, one of Duncan’s opponents in the race and a major critic of the former chief, said the dismissals are all Duncan’s responsibility. “I hope the people that vote read the paper,” Desio said. “I’m infuriated. What an embarrassment for the city.”

‘We have high expectations’

Monroe is moving swiftly to deal with the problem cases.

Interim Police Chief Bryan Gilliard already has put in place changes to monitor cases better and to change the way in which data are entered and updated by computer. D’Agostino also raised the possibility of Monroe appointing a liaison with the district attorney’s office for better communication of what is needed to prosecute cases.

And Gilliard is conducting an internal investigation to determine which officers were responsible for the cases that were dismissed. Disciplinary action is possible.

Those cases involve about 10 officers, although that number may change, city spokesman Pete Hovanec said.

The department has about 100 officers.

“We are working extremely hard to ensure our entire department recognizes how significant and how serious this issue is,” Gilliard said in a statement. “We have high expectations of our officers, and this will not be tolerated.”

Bell: 704-358-5696; Twitter: @abell
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