TRAVERSE CITY — Former jail administrator Todd Ritter was arraigned in 86th District Court Friday on felony and misdemeanor charges stemming from an investigation by the state’s Attorney General’s office.
Magistrate Tammi Rodgers agreed to a $50,000 personal recognizance bond, though Assistant Attorney General Danielle Hagaman-Clark, who is prosecuting the case, asked for a 10 percent cash requirement.
“I have no reason to believe the defendant will flee, but the nature of the charges are serious,” Hagaman-Clark said. “I believe his guidelines do calculate out to what would amount to a prison sentence, rather than just county jail time, if he were to be convicted as charged.”
Ritter was charged 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 most serious on its face, the criminal sexual conduct, is an allegation, and only an allegation, that Mr. Ritter brushed the top of a woman’s leg with a finger,” defense attorney Paul Jarboe told the court. “The statement states it was not forceful, it was not a grab, it was just a brushing. And that occurred in May or June of 2014. Some six years ago.”
Jarboe said he and his client recognized the seriousness of the charges, but a personal recognizance bond was requested as Ritter was not a flight risk and had no criminal history.
Ritter was forced to resign his post as administrator of Grand Traverse County’s jail in April 2019, after allegations of sexual relations with female inmates and other misdeeds surfaced in December of 2018.
Charging documents obtained by the Record-Eagle state Ritter touched the woman’s thigh while she was an inmate at the jail and that he made comments about her yoga pants and asked her bra size all which made the woman uncomfortable.
The documents state the larceny from a building charge relates to county-owned drug test kits Ritter is accused of asking subordinates to obtain for him on at least three separate occasions.
Three or four of these kits were provided to a “paramour” to ensure she would not test positive when required to test by her probation officer, documents show. On one occasion Ritter reportedly told a subordinate to “meet Ritter in the alley to effect the exchange.”
The willful neglect of duty charge stems from Ritter’s reported use of his position of authority to keep a female inmate as a trustee in the jail when she was supposed to serve the remainder of her sentence in Kalkaska, documents show.
As a trustee, the inmate was not required to pay a housing fee, which cost the county $1,760; other inmates were sent to Leelanau and Benzie counties because of overcrowding in the Grand Traverse County jail which cost another $9,300, documents show.
“What the people find most egregious, your honor, is that the charges the defendant is facing demonstrate a pattern of conduct from as far back as 2014 until when he was eventually forced to resign, that show a clear pattern of abuse while he was acting in a position of authority,” Hagaman-Clark said. “So while defense council thinks these may not seem as serious as other charges, I would disagree. I think that sexual assault of somebody who is serving a jail sentence under the defendant’s control as jail administrator is very serious.”
Grand Traverse County Prosecutor Noelle Moeggenberg requested the special prosecutor in March, after the Michigan State Police investigated and her office spent at least eight months reviewing the case.
Ritter was represented at the arraignment by Jarboe, as part of Ritter’s court-appointed attorney request.
Jarboe is the coordinator of the Michigan Indigent Defense Council for Grand Traverse and Antrim counties.
Magistrate Rodgers expressed concern about Ritter’s employment, after he told the court he is newly employed as a field supervisor for the U.S. Census Bureau.
“I’m hopeful you would not put yourself in a position where you would be supervising female workers,” Rodgers said, “and I would hope that you would take it upon yourself to realize how important it is that you not place yourself in that position. It would be very concerning to me.”
“All that supervision is done via the telephone, ma’am,” Ritter said.
Magistrate Rodgers listed standard no-contact conditions for Ritter’s bond, as well as no contact with any employee of the Grand Traverse County jail.
A probable cause conference is scheduled for Aug. 27 and a preliminary examination is scheduled for Sept. 3 at 11 a.m. in front of 86th District Court Judge Michael Stepka.
It’s likely the preliminary exam date will be changed, Jarboe said, after Ritter waived his right to the 21-day rule, because of the complexity of the case.
“I understand from the attorney general’s office there were 60 witnesses interviewed and a voluminous amount of material,” Jarboe said, “so Mr. Ritter and his counsel will need time to review those.”