The disappearance of money, drugs and firearms from Newport’s former police department remains a mystery after a lengthy law enforcement investigation ended this week.
In a letter delivered to city offices, Washington County Sheriff Bill Hutton said a deputy interviewed 17 people as he tried to determine the whereabouts of four handguns, a bow, $2,231.38 in forfeited money and narcotics evidence related to 12 drug cases.
The investigation arrived at the same conclusion as a previous inquiry by Dakota County into Newport’s property room procedures, Hutton wrote this week to City Administrator Deb Hill: “The evidence process within the then-police department was not properly managed, having little accountability.”
The Newport City Council voted in December 2015 to abolish the police department, after disclosures of scandalous behavior by some former officers and a discovery that the evidence room was an unsecured mess.
That, along with the determination that the city of 3,550 was paying more for policing than Woodbury and Cottage Grove, led Newport to contract with the Washington County Sheriff’s Office for law enforcement services.
An inspection revealed that in addition to missing evidence, the property room contained sexual-assault test results that were contaminated and lacked tracking for property relating to 1,138 cases, Hutton wrote in a November 2015 report to Hill.
The Sheriff’s Office brought up standards for the property room and later moved it to the law enforcement center in Stillwater.
In this week’s letter to the city, Hutton said that finding the missing property “was no easy task” because of confusion over how money was handled and whether guns were destroyed or sold.
Some former police officers agreed that they had seen former Chief Curt Montgomery flush narcotics and other drugs down the toilet, the report said — actions that were outside of “best practices” in disposing evidence, Hutton wrote.
Montgomery refused to cooperate with the fact-finding investigation, Hutton wrote, and one retired Newport police detective didn’t respond to numerous attempts to contact him. Deputy Gary Swanson did the investigation.
“Based on the statute of limitations, it would be very difficult in this case to file any criminal charges,” Hutton wrote.
After Dakota County completed its investigation last year, Hill asked Washington County to probe further, Hutton said. None of the investigations, the sheriff said, “can point a finger at any one individual as having sole responsibility for its outcome.”
He added: “I can say with certainty that these issues no longer exist with the city’s policing.”
Five city police officers were hired as county deputies to patrol Newport, and Hill said that discontent among residents over dissolving the police force has largely subsided.
The Sheriff’s Office has a sergeant and several deputies stationed there, and also handles investigations for the city.
Newport is the latest Washington County city to contract with the Sheriff’s Office. The others include Hugo, Mahtomedi, Scandia, Lake Elmo and Afton.
Forest Lake also is pondering whether to close its police department and contract with the Washington County Sheriff’s Office to save money.