TRAVERSE CITY — Former Grand Traverse County jail administrator Todd Ritter has rejected a plea offer from the state Attorney General’s office, though negotiations are ongoing, his defense attorney said.
“Plea negotiations were opened by the AG’s office,” said Shawn Worden, Ritter’s court-appointed attorney. “I find that a little bit surprising, considering the first word we heard from them was that any plea negotiation would be difficult. And yet, she made the first offer.”
Ritter was charged in August with second-degree criminal sexual conduct with multiple variables, embezzlement by a public official, larceny in a building, common law offenses and willful neglect of duty, court records show. The charges stem from an investigation and case review by the AG’s office, after a request in March by Grand Traverse County Prosecutor Noelle Moeggenberg.
Moeggenberg declined comment.
Worden declined to provide details on the offer, beyond saying it was rejected and that he and Ritter are contemplating a response.
Attorney General spokesperson Ryan Jarvi declined comment, citing ongoing litigation.
Ritter pleaded not guilty Thursday in a Zoom hearing in front of 86th District Court Judge Michael Stepka, and waived his right to an initial examination of the charges against him.
Stepka bound the case over to 13th Circuit Court.
Worden said he and Ritter decided to waive the examination, specifically because of the plea negotiations.
“I’ve gone through the police file twice,” Worden added, “and there is some evidence to support their claims, but quite frankly it’s pretty weak considering the significantly high charges they’ve lodged against Mr. Ritter,” Worden said.
Danielle Hagaman-Clark, an attorney with the AG’s office prosecuting the case, told Stepka Thursday she had no objection to Ritter’s waiver of the exam, which had been expected to take up to 8 hours and would have examined the evidence to determine if there is probable cause to support the charges.
Ritter worked in the Grand Traverse County Sheriff’s Department for two decades. He was placed on paid administrative leave April 4, 2019, and resigned April 11, 2019 amid accusations of inappropriate conduct with former inmates, as previously reported by the Record-Eagle.
An internal investigation by the sheriff’s department, the Michigan State Police and the AG’s office followed, yielding lewd text messages and photographs of former and current inmates and a list of other misconducts by Ritter.
Worden said defense of his client has been made more difficult by the people spouting off on social media about the upcoming election.
“Todd has become a political football which is totally inappropriate,” Worden said. “What I’ve seen on social media is quite concerning considering he hasn’t been convicted of anything.”
Worden did not reference any specific posts; an investigation by the sheriff’s department generated a written report which was read live on Facebook by a political advocacy group, Northern Michigan for Accountable Government.
The criminal charges were also the subject of written questions recently posed to Sheriff Tom Bensley by county commissioners Betsy Coffia and Bryce Hundley, as well as a resulting cautionary memo regarding presumption of innocence by Deputy Civil Council Kit Tholen.
Bensley is running for re-election against challenger Greg Hall.
A pre-trial hearing is scheduled for Oct. 23 at 1 p.m.