UPDATE: Douglas County sheriff acquitted of embezzlement
Douglas County Sheriff Troy Strid was acquitted of an embezzlement charge Thursday at the end of a one-day trial. The acquittal decision came from Judge Tim Bjorkman, because Strid waived his right to a jury trial. The proceedings were moved to M...
Douglas County Sheriff Troy Strid was acquitted of an embezzlement charge Thursday at the end of a one-day trial.
The acquittal decision came from Judge Tim Bjorkman, because Strid waived his right to a jury trial. The proceedings were moved to Mitchell because of courtroom availability issues.
A small group of friends and family hugged each other as Bjorkman announced the verdict in the courtroom at the Davison County Courthouse. As members of the group exited the courtroom, all hugged Strid or shook his hand.
The day did not begin that way, however, as the courtroom was tense with little talk as the judge prepared to take the bench. Strid waited quietly at the defendant's table with his head bowed, reading papers. He wore a black-and-white-striped polo T-shirt and black slacks.
He was charged in April with petty theft in the second degree for allegedly embezzling public property from Douglas County and the city of Delmont, where he was formerly employed.
In April, Strid turned himself in after a three-month investigation by the state Division of Criminal Investigation resulted in the embezzlement charge. According to the investigation report, Strid admitted to participating in the selling of items on eBay, which included lightbars for law enforcement vehicles, a lightbar controller box and several rotators and mirrors salvaged from lightbars.
Although Prosecutor Pamela Hein called several witnesses Thursday and the defense called none, Bjorkman found the state did not provide sufficient evidence to support the charge.
Hein called current and former law enforcement officers to testify regarding the "commonplace exchange" of equipment among smaller police, fire and ambulance departments.
However, the judge said she failed to establish proof that the city of Delmont or Douglas County owned any of the equipment Strid participated in selling on eBay.
Strid did not deny that he worked with a friend, Darin Moke, to list the items on eBay. When the items sold, Moke transferred the funds to Strid's wife's PayPal account. Paypal is a secure method of transferring funds over the Internet.
Hein had to prove four things -- that Strid had been entrusted with certain property from Douglas County and the city of Delmont; that he acted inappropriately in due and lawful execution of that trust; that he acted with intent to defraud; and that the property was worth a value up to $399.
Only one item was recovered from the eBay sales -- a six-switch lightbar controller box, which a DCI agent purchased on eBay, according to DCI Agent Jason Piercy.
Although this was admitted into evidence, as were several other photos taken by Moke for the eBay sales, the evidence was not enough to prove public ownership of the items, Bjorkman said.
Piercy, who investigated the case, told the court none of the items sold had factory serial numbers. Defense Attorney Tim Whalen argued this made it impossible to prove ownership.
Whalen also questioned Piercy about inventory lists Piercy received from the Douglas County Sheriff's Office and the city of Delmont. Both were received after Piercy began investigating the case. However, the city of Delmont was unable to produce a current inventory of equipment. Piercy said Police Chief Rob Hotchkiss then inventoried the equipment and produced a list for Piercy.
Piercy testified the area in which the lightbars was kept was wide open and accessible by anyone with keys to the building.
In asking for an acquittal, Whalen said the state did not prove Strid had been entrusted with the property, nor had the state proven ownership of the property.
"County commissioners are charged with maintaining ownership of property and to dispose of it," he said. "The state has never called on one commissioner to say, 'Yes, it is ours' or 'We declared it surplus.' There is no evidence of ownership of the property."
Whalen said the only good evidence the state had is that Strid allegedly told Piercy some of the equipment belonged to the city of Delmont.
Hein asserted proof of ownership was established by Strid's confession that the items sold on eBay came from a county vehicle and were not his to sell.
"When you hold a position of public trust, the trust of the public does not end because you resign on this day," Hein said.
Neal Moad, former chief of police in Delmont, testified that many of the allegedly stolen items were stored in the city building at Delmont. However, Moad left the position prior to Strid allegedly taking the items, and Moad couldn't be sure if the city of Delmont owned the items.
Former Mitchell Police Chief Doug Feltman also testified regarding the donation of several items to smaller departments, including Delmont, Armour and Corsica. However, Feltman couldn't positively identify the pictured items as ones owned by the city of Delmont or Douglas County.
After asking Hein several times for proof of ownership during her argument against acquittal, Bjorkman recessed to make his decision.
He took nearly an hour in chambers reviewing evidence and testimony. Once he took the bench, Bjorkman gave a short explanation prior to his judgment.
"There wasn't evidence to support entrustment in this case," he said. "It's significant because the elements to prove embezzlement differ from the elements to prove petty theft under a separate statute."