Traverse City Record-Eagle

June 18, 2014

UPDATE: Kalkaska deputy, school board member charged with sex crime


---- — KALKASKA — Kalkaska Public Schools Superintendent Lee Sandy found it a "complete surprise" to learn that Ostego County prosecutors authorized sex crime charges against Aaron John Popa.

Sandy called Popa, 37, of Kalkaska, an "outstanding member of the community" who serves as the school board's vice president, keeps score and officiates high school sporting events, is active with the Kiwanis Club and spearheaded an effort to build new dugouts for local youth baseball teams.

But accusations stemming from Popa's day job as a Kalkaska County sheriff's deputy could cast a cloud over his service.

"This came out of the blue," Sandy said.

Popa appeared today in Otsego County's 87th District Court for arraignment on three counts of second-degree criminal sexual conduct. The charge stems from accusations that Popa had sexual relations with a former female inmate during a 2006 inmate transport.

Otsego County Prosecutor Michael Rola declined comment on the case's specifics. He said Popa is charged under specific language in the sex crime law that prohibits a county corrections employee from having sexual contact with an inmate.

"It's statutorily defined this is not to be done," Rola said.

Popa hung up on a Record-Eagle reporter and didn't return a call for comment.

Michigan State Police Lt. John Card said detectives started an investigation in February after a "third party" brought accusations against Popa.

"It was not the alleged victim in the case," Card said, declining to be more specific.

Card said the incident occurred during a prisoner transport that passed through Otsego County. He said detectives are continuing their investigation to see if other incidents took place.

"It is unclear at this time, that's all I can tell you," he said of additional incidents.

State police detectives arrested Popa today. Kalkaska County Sheriff Dave Israel said he placed Popa on unpaid suspension and he'll conduct an internal investigation parallel with the court proceedings.

Popa worked 12 years in the department in various positions, from the jail, to patrol and most recently as a transport officer responsible for serving warrants, driving to court and transporting prisoners.

Israel said he didn't hear about the 2006 incident until the state police investigation began. He said Popa never faced similar accusations during his tenure with the department.

"He's innocent until he's proven guilty," Israel said. "He's got the same rights that any person should have."

John Rogers serves as Kalkaska Public Schools' board of education president. He said board members haven't determined what action, if any, they will take in regards to Popa, who served on the board since 2012.

"We will follow whatever actions we need to take according to statute," he said.

Both Rogers and Sandy stressed that they considered it important to find out how the case shakes out in court. They didn't want to see a community member like Popa fall victim to a false accusation.

"I think it's important that until proven guilty that this is just a charge," Sandy said.

A pretrial hearing is scheduled for Thursday in 87th District Court. Popa will also appear June 26 in court for a preliminary examination. He remains out of Ostego County's jail on a $20,000 personal recognizance bond.