TRAVERSE CITY — An investigation of former Grand Traverse County Jail Administrator Todd Ritter is in the hands of the prosecutor.
Ritter was accused last spring of misconduct, including lewd behavior toward current and former inmates and misuse of funds in an internal investigation of Grand Traverse County’s jail.
The Michigan State Police’s subsequent investigation hit Prosecutor Noelle Moeggenberg’s desk last Friday.
She said she’s still reviewing the massive report — in the form of a 5- to 6-inch-thick binder, she said — and it’s too early to make any determination.
“They left it pretty open, the Michigan State Police did, so that I could take a look at it,” Moeggenberg said, adding that MSP investigators did note potential for a neglect of public duty charge. “I’m working my way through.”
Moeggenberg said she has multiple computer downloads, supplemental reports and recorded interviews to review yet as well, and plans to interview several witnesses herself before making any decisions.
Ritter left the role — through a settlement agreement that forced his resignation — on April 11. He was initially placed on administrative leave April 4 amid an internal investigation into what Grand Traverse County Sheriff Tom Bensley called “fireable offenses” in a letter dated May 9.
Bensley declined to discuss the matter, saying he’s yet to see MSP’s findings.
“We don’t know what the prosecutor’s going to do,” Bensley said. “It’s in her hands, it’s her decision.”
That May 9 letter, obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request, details allegations against Ritter of “maintaining intimate relationships” and smoking marijuana with two former inmates. It also claims he gifted them lunches and county drug test kits and made coffee runs on their behalf while on duty and in uniform. It states the former jail administrator played favorites with female inmates as well, and brought one woman on a “work-related” trip to Lansing, later expensing the $192 hotel room.
Ritter pulled another former inmate into a closet in the county Governmental Center for kissing and “intimate touching” while on the clock, the Record-Eagle reported last spring.
Searches of Ritter’s county-provided cell phone yielded a collection of lewd text messages and photographs of “nude men and women performing sexual acts,” according to internal investigation reports.
The internal investigation began after jail staff brought concerns to Undersheriff Mike Shea.
“When I took office, I opened the line of communication with road patrol and corrections officers and started meeting with corrections officers,” Shea said Friday. “At some point, they felt comfortable speaking with me and things started coming out.”
Moeggenberg requested MSP conduct an independent investigation of the accusations in late May.
Shea declined to comment on the State Police report Friday, only saying he had the “upmost confidence it will be a thorough and complete investigation.”
Jail Administrator Capt. Chris Barsheff also declined to discuss his predecessor’s accusations.
“Anytime there are complaints against our staff, we have policies in place that dictate how we investigate those, and we thoroughly investigate them and come to an appropriate conclusion,” Barsheff said. “I’ve learned in my career not to guess what the outcome might be and wait until the prosecutor’s made a determination.”
The revelations joined growing criticism of the county’s jail, which has weathered questions of adequate inmate care and 51 suicide attempts — two successful — between 2011 and 2018.
Both suicides — Marilyn Palmer and Alan Halloway — were surrounded by questions of negligence and failings by staff in following jail policy.
Outcry over jail conditions has grown in past weeks with local Greg Hall’s “Abuse at the Grand Traverse County Jail” movement and Facebook page drawing dozens of stories and accusations of poor treatment and medication denials.
Closing Ritter’s chapter, though, could be a step forward.
“Issues like (the Ritter investigation) create a lot of stress and anxiety for people who may be involved,” Barsheff said. “Whether at the end of that investigation it’s concluded there was no wrongdoing or there’s charges against somebody, it allows all those affected to move closer to closure.
“And that’s a good thing.”