Lewd activity, misconduct alleged in Ritter resignation

Former Grand Traverse County Jail Administrator Todd Ritter, shown, resigned in April 2019. Reports allege he engaged in inappropriate conduct with inmates during his tenure.

TRAVERSE CITY — An internal investigation yielded lewd text messages, photographs and a several-page list of misconduct between Grand Traverse County Jail Administrator Todd Ritter and female inmates under his watch.

Ritter resigned from the role April 11, days after sheriff’s department officials placed him on paid administrative leave, as a term of a settlement agreement in lieu of termination. Now, Michigan State Police investigators will determine whether that conduct resulted in any criminal activity during Ritter’s 20-plus-year tenure at the county’s sheriff’s department and jail.

Sheriff Tom Bensley pointed to “possible policy and procedure” violations in a statement about the suspension last month, but declined to elaborate.

It comes in the wake of criticism over 51 attempted suicides and two successful — Marilyn Lucille Palmer and Alan Bradley Halloway — at the jail between 2011 and 2018.

A May 9 letter from Bensley to Ritter alleges he “maintained intimate relationships” and smoked marijuana with two former inmates, gave county drug test kits to one, and showed favoritism toward certain female prisoners, according to reports obtained through a Record-Eagle Freedom of Information Act request.

Reports show he frequently drove morning coffees and afternoon lunch orders to a former inmate while on duty — and in uniform — in a marked sheriff’s department car.

He brought the same former inmate, unnamed in the report, on what he called a “work-related” trip to Lansing in August 2017. He spent the night with her at a hotel, expensing the $192.55 room to the taxpayer-funded sheriff’s department.

Ritter also met with another former inmate in the Grand Traverse County Governmental Center’s basement, where they retreated to a closet to kiss and engage in “intimate touching” in uniform and on the clock, reports show.

Investigators searched Ritter’s county-owned cell phone, finding collected photographs and videos of nude men and women performing sexual acts, and a photograph of Ritter with his “tongue protruding out of his mouth making a sexual gesture,” according to reports.

“The written and pictorial information found on your cell phone was quite voluminous,” Bensley wrote in the report.

Neither Bensley nor Ritter could be reached for comment.

Ritter first joined the sheriff’s department as a part-time corrections officer in 1997 and became jail administrator in 2015.

Undersheriff Michael Shea met with corrections officers last November and soon began learning about rumored relationships between Ritter and former inmates, preferential treatment he showed some and other allegations.

Shea and Bensley passed the investigation onto attorney Janice Adams on March 28, according to reports — just before Ritter’s mandatory leave.

Bensley’s letter said “the number, severity, and egregious nature” of the conduct and the violations uncovered offered “just cause for termination.”

Bensley could not be reached to say why the decision not to fire Ritter was made.

The MSP investigation begins next week. See www.Record-Eagle.com for updates.

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