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 — A decision about whether former Jail Administrator Todd Ritter will face criminal charges will wait a little longer.

Grand Traverse County Prosecutor Noelle Moeggenberg has been reviewing investigation reports detailing accusations against Ritter since late September. She said then that her review of the extensive documents would be done carefully, and that she planned to interview each accuser herself before moving forward.

“Part of the delay is because victims don’t want to be named in this case,” Moeggenberg said. “They know its high profile, and I’ve explained to them that I won’t be releasing their names, but that that isn’t a guarantee their names won’t be made public some other way.

“I want to give them as much information as I can about the process and what is expected of them. And let them make the decision in the end.”

Ritter, who served the Grand Traverse County Sheriff’s Department for decades, left the role through a forced resignation on April 11, 2019 amid accusations of inappropriate conduct with former inmates.

A May 9 letter authored by Sheriff Tom Bensley details those misconducts, including “maintaining intimate relationships” and smoking marijuana with two former inmates, gifting them lunches and county-purchased drug test kits and making 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 a $192 hotel room.

Ritter also was accused of pulling another former inmate into a closet in the county Governmental Center for “intimate touching” while on the clock, the Record-Eagle previously reported, and a search of his county-provided cellphone yielded a collection of lewd messages and photographs of “nude men and women performing sexual acts,” according to internal investigation reports.

The accusations surfaced once Undersheriff Mike Shea took office, the Record-Eagle previously reported, after corrections officers came forward and disclosed Ritter’s actions to him.

Moeggenberg passed the case on to Michigan State Police soon after for additional review. She said in May that Ritter’s conduct could spur charges of criminal sexual conduct and embezzlement, the Record-Eagle reported at that time.

The revelations joined growing criticism of the county’s jail, which has weathered questions of adequate inmate care and 51 suicide attempts — two resulting in deaths — between 2011 and 2018.

Both suicides — Marilyn Palmer and Alan Halloway — were surrounded by questions about jail policies and procedures.

Outcry over jail conditions has grown in past months 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.

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Reporter Mardi Link contributed to this report.

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