Charges could follow jail admin's resignation

Former Grand Traverse County Jail Administrator Todd Ritter resigned in the spring of 2019 after reports allege he engaged in inappropriate conduct with inmates during his tenure.

TRAVERSE CITY — Grand Traverse County Jail Administrator Todd Ritter’s alleged inappropriate relations with female inmates could prompt criminal charges.

County Prosecutor Noelle Moeggenberg said Ritter could be charged with criminal sexual conduct and embezzlement after reviewing an internal investigation report. She referred the case to Michigan State Police officials who will begin investigating Monday, said Lt. Travis House.

“What I’ve seen so far is disappointing,” Moeggenberg said.

County Administrator Nate Alger learned of the investigation April 4, the same day Sheriff Tom Bensley placed Ritter on paid administrative leave. Ritter submitted his resignation letter April 11.

But Alger and the county Board of Commissioners have yet to learn about the investigation’s findings — chiefly that Ritter “maintained intimate relationships” and smoked marijuana with two former female inmates, showed favoritism toward certain female prisoners and collected sexually explicit photographs and videos on his county-owned cellphone, according to a May 9 letter Bensley addressed to Ritter. The letter was obtained through a Record-Eagle Freedom of Information Act request.

“If the allegations are true, it’s very inappropriate,” said Commissioner Brad Jewett. “But we have to wait and see how it all shakes out.”

Bensley noted in the letter the violations were fireable offenses, but instead Ritter accepted a settlement agreement resulting in his resignation.

Further allegations outline frequent trips Ritter made to deliver coffee and lunch to a former inmate while on duty, in uniform and behind the wheel of a marked sheriff’s department car.

He brought that same inmate on a “work-related” trip to Lansing in August 2017. They stayed in a hotel room together and he expensed the $192.55 room fee to the taxpayer-funded sheriff’s department, according to the letter.

Ritter met another former inmate in the Grand Traverse County Governmental Center’s basement, retreating into a closet to kiss and engage in “intimate touching,” also while on the clock and in uniform.

Undersheriff Michael Shea, who was appointed in late October, met with corrections officers in November over concerns. He started his own investigation after officers shared rumors that Ritter had relationships with former female inmates and showed others preferential treatment.

“Everything was just kind of hearsay,” Shea said.

“Substantial evidence” began surfacing, prompting Shea and Bensley to pass the investigation on to Attorney Janis Adams.

Sheriff’s department officials moved investigation documents on to the prosecutor’s office. Moeggenberg determined the case needed review for potential criminal charges and passed it on to the MSP.

“Normally, we don’t do that, that’s the prosecutor’s decision,” Shea said when asked why investigators didn’t hand the case to the MSP earlier.

Moeggenberg supported the sheriff’s department’s handling of the investigation, as did commissioners who were reached for comment. Commissioner Robert Hentschel said it appears the investigation was handled professionally, and ended with “disappointing” results.

Alger called for changes at a jail that continues to experience its share of concerns, including 51 suicide attempts and two suicides between 2011 and 2018. Shea said those incidents have no connection to Ritter’s alleged actions.

“I think there could be improvement in oversight of jail operations,” Alger said. “This needs to be considered in the hiring of a new jail administrator.”

Ritter and Bensley could not be reached for comment.

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