The investigation was launched at the request of county Administrator Jim Cordes and the county commissioners following revelations this week that the former chief deputy probation officer, Emmanuel de Leon, had been facing possible disciplinary action prior to his resignation last week. De Leon is also the director of the county’s Crime Lab and Forensics Laboratory, the latter of which is slated to close Jan. 31.
“We’ve got to get to the bottom of it,” Commissioner Lori Kokoski said. “If there was some wrongdoing, we’ve got to correct it and put everybody’s mind at ease.”
Jonathan Rosenbaum, de Leon’s attorney, wrote in an email Friday that his client’s resignation had nothing to do with the possibility of discipline.
“His decision to resign was based upon the fact that he had no job to protect since the forensic lab was abolished,” Rosenbaum wrote. “He was a ‘probation officer’ in name only and never received training as a probation officer. He was given the title ‘deputy chief probation officer’ for reasons unknown to him and only accepted it out of respect for the court officials who chose to bestow it upon him.”
The allegations against de Leon centered on a Ziploc bag of prescription medication that county Administrative Judge James Burge had ordered destroyed in October.
The October destruction order and two similar orders Burge issued in November were part of an effort by the judges and the Probation Department to get rid of years’ worth of accumulated evidence that had been seized by probation officers. The judges implemented a new policy last year that largely bars probation officers from seizing evidence from probationers.
All de Leon did, Rosenbaum wrote, was take items given to him for storage in his role as chief deputy probation officer.
“It is false to imply otherwise or to suggest that he was responsible in his capacity as lab director for the storage of items taken by probations officers,” Rosenbaum wrote. “This was pursuant to policies of the Court Probation Department which he did not decide and had questioned for some time.”
In the case of the bag of pills, General Division Court Administrator Tim Lubbe has said that when de Leon was asked where the drugs were, he denied knowing their location when contacted while on vacation. Lubbe said de Leon later came into the office and produced the pills, which he claimed to have wanted to use as standards on drug testing equipment used in the labs.
Lubbe said the incident with the pills led to reviews by the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation and the Ohio Board of Pharmacy. A report from the board concluded that there were accountability and security problems at the labs, which share employees and space in the basement of the old Lorain County Courthouse.
A letter scheduling a disciplinary hearing for de Leon, which was later canceled, also said two guns and a police scanner can’t be located.
“The foregoing items were logged into your custody and there is no evidence of their destruction,” Lubbe wrote in the letter. “Accordingly, the inability to account for these materials constitutes misfeasance and/or nonfeasance.”
Lubbe has said the court’s investigation into de Leon ended with his resignation from the Probation Department. He and Burge have said that they found no evidence of criminal activity that would have warranted bringing in law enforcement to investigate the missing items.
But Cordes wrote in an email to the commissioners on Friday seeking permission to request an investigation that it was standard procedure for him to ask for deputies to look into missing county property.
“Normally, if this was one of our departments and the issues were similar I would simply do so since this has always been our practice,” Cordes wrote. “However, this is not one of our oversight areas and such a request may well cause some exasperation with the courts.”
Burge said he has no problem with deputies investigating.
“I don’t know what they will be able to find, but obviously if they think an investigation is in order, I wouldn’t quarrel with it,” the judge said.
Lubbe has said nothing has been found that would explain the missing guns and scanner, although he has said there have been a series of break-ins at the old courthouse, where the Probation Department stored seized items.
Burge acknowledged Friday that workers discovered evidence that someone had been living inside the old courthouse, although there was nothing to indicate the squatter had stolen evidence housed there. Cordes said the security hole that had allowed the squatter access to the building was quickly fixed.
Rosenbaum wrote he doesn’t think there’s any reason to blame de Leon or other employees for the missing items.
“It is my opinion that under the circumstances and policies that surrounded this evidence repository and the acknowledged break-ins that neither Mr. de Leon or anyone else had any exposure for anything that may have been lost even if it could be established that anything was missing,” Rosenbaum wrote. “The items in question were ‘confiscated’ by probation officers for reasons that court personnel now suspect may have been improper.”
Rosenbaum also wrote that none of the missing items were given to de Leon for processing and no one is in danger of being wrongfully convicted. Local defense attorneys have said the issue of missing evidence calls the integrity of the labs into questions.