ELYRIA — An investigation into missing items at the Lorain County Adult Probation Department has cleared the county Crime Lab and its director, Emmanuel de Leon, of wrongdoing, county sheriff’s Chief Deputy Dennis Cavanaugh said Friday.
But Cavanaugh said the investigation into missing guns and other items at the Probation Department continues.
“Some things that we are looking at surround how these items were brought in and where they might be,” he said, although he declined to provide details of the investigation.
Now that de Leon has been cleared, county Common Pleas Judge James Burge said he doesn’t know what is left to investigate at the Probation Department, which the county’s General Division judges oversee.
“I would have no idea what they would be looking for,” he said.
Until January, de Leon had been director of both the Crime Lab, where drug and fingerprint evidence is tested, and the county’s Forensics Laboratory, where probationers were drug tested, in addition to serving as the county’s chief deputy probation officer.
The Forensics Lab, like the Probation Department, fell under the control of the county’s General Division judges, while the county commissioners are in charge of the Crime Lab. De Leon remains on the job as Crime Lab director.
De Leon resigned as chief deputy probation officer in January at the same time the judges decided to close down the Forensics Lab as a cost-cutting measure. His attorney, Jonathan Rosenbaum, who could not be reached for comment Friday, has said the resignation was because of the closing of the Forensics Lab rather than any allegations of misconduct de Leon was facing.
Rosenbaum also has insisted that the accusations against his client weren’t justified.
De Leon was placed on paid administrative leave Nov. 21 after it was learned that a bag of miscellaneous prescription medication that Burge, who serves as the General Division’s administrative judge, had ordered destroyed couldn’t be located.
Burge began ordering the destruction of items that probation officers had seized over the years after a new policy was put in place last year that bars probation officers from confiscating items from the people they oversee. The pills were ordered destroyed in October and General Division Court Administrator Tim Lubbe said they couldn’t be found when the seized items were being inventoried in November.
He has said de Leon, who was on vacation at the time, twice denied knowing where the drugs were when he was contacted, but that de Leon later came into the office while still off and produced the pills. Lubbe said de Leon’s explanation was that he had taken the pills to use as standards when conducting tests at the Crime Lab.
Cavanaugh said Friday that de Leon told investigators that he originally hadn’t understood what pills his co-workers were talking about when he was contacted while on vacation. He also said de Leon was trying to save the county time and money by using the seized drugs as baselines to calibrate testing equipment. He said the Cuyahoga County Medical Examiner’s Office does the same thing.
“There was no ill intent,” Cavanaugh said.
Lubbe also raised the possibility that de Leon was responsible for two missing guns and a police scanner that couldn’t be found in December, according to a Jan. 15 letter scheduling a disciplinary hearing for de Leon. That hearing never took place because of de Leon’s resignation, which also ended the internal investigation Lubbe and Chief Probation Officer Beth Cwalina were running.
Lubbe has said that the guns were given to de Leon to be placed in the Probation Department’s evidence room in the old Lorain County Courthouse, which also houses the Crime Lab.
“The foregoing items were logged into your custody and there is no evidence of their destruction,” Lubbe wrote in the Jan. 15 letter to de Leon.
Lubbe said Friday he still doesn’t know what happened to the missing guns. The old courthouse has been the subject of numerous break-ins and Lubbe also said it’s possible the guns were properly destroyed, but there’s no record of that happening.
“It could have been sloppy paperwork,” he said.
Cavanaugh said the investigation turned up no evidence that showed de Leon did anything improper with the guns.
“There’s no evidence he had control of any of the weapons,” he said.
The issue of the missing pills also touched off a review of the policies and procedures in place in the county’s two labs. Both the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation, which runs the state’s crime lab, and the Ohio Board of Pharmacy were brought in to conduct reviews last year.
Although BCI didn’t produce a report, the Pharmacy Board determined “there is a lack of security and accountability of dangerous drugs used in this lab.”
That report recommended updating the labs’ evidence logs as well as the completion of drug purchase, and chain of custody records. It also said “this facility must have better security of keys.”
A statement issued by the county Friday stated that deputies reviewed how the Crime Lab operates and found the lab “has proper protocols and standard procedures in place that are consistently followed with regard to the handling of evidence.”
“Finally, there is no indication that evidence submitted to the Crime Lab has been compromised due to items being confiscated by the Adult Probation Department,” the statement said.
County officials have been eager for the results of the investigation to be released because of a levy designed to financially support the Crime Lab that will appear on the May 6 ballot.
Law enforcement officials, including Cavanaugh and county Prosecutor Dennis Will, have said the Crime Lab provides an essential service by allowing for the quick processing of drugs and other evidence seized during criminal investigations.
“I’m glad we found out it wasn’t on this side of the house, because we have the levy,” Commissioner Lori Kokoski said.
Kokoski, Commissioner Ted Kalo and county Administrator Jim Cordes all said they were pleased they rejected calls to fire de Leon when the allegations against him first became public in January.
“I’m glad we held firm,” Cordes, who plans to present a plan to reorganize the Crime Lab to the commissioners next week, said.
Commissioner Tom Williams, who had called for de Leon to be fired, said Friday that he was operating off the information he had at the time and didn’t think de Leon should be running the lab while he was under a cloud of suspicion.
“It appears that he’s doing everything correctly and I’m glad to hear that,” he said.
But Williams also said he stands by his vote against putting the Crime Lab levy on the May ballot. He said he still thinks the commissioners should have held off until the investigation was complete.
“I’m still waiting for a full, detailed report,” he said.
Exactly how long the investigation will take isn’t clear. Although Cavanaugh declined to discuss the scope of the probe at the Probation Department, Cordes called what is being investigated “significant.”
Williams said he would like to bring in a specialized forensic accountant to examine the department’s finances.
Kokoski said she believes that de Leon may have been a scapegoat for problems at the Probation Department that the judges and Lubbe now are trying to correct after years of poor oversight.
“It’s unfortunate that Emmy’s reputation may have been damaged because of allegations by Lubbe and the courts,” she said.
Burge and Lubbe both have said they never had any reason to believe anything illegal took place at the Probation Department or the labs. Burge said Friday he believes the steps he and Lubbe took were justified.
“With the information I have, I stand behind everything I did,” the judge said.
Lubbe said the court system was doing its job when it began investigating after items in the Probation Department’s custody couldn’t be accounted for.
Lubbe also said he, Cwalina and the judges are taking steps to improve the policies and procedures in place at the Probation Department.
“We always have to be vigilant because people are flawed, so we have to be working and doing our jobs to make sure these things never occur again,” he said.
An example of that, Lubbe said, is the decision to bar probation officers from seizing items.
“From my perspective, it was bad practice and we shouldn’t have been taking (items) in the first place and two, it wasn’t properly accounted for,” he said.