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Mt. Pleasant News   Wash Journal
Neighbors Growing Together | Aug 16, 2018

Former jailer found guilty of stealing from inmate

By Rusty Ebert, Ledger correspondent | Feb 12, 2018

KEOSAUQUA – A former jailer-dispatcher at the Van Buren County Jail was found guilty of stealing $100 from an inmate.

Heather Weber-Robertson was found guilty of theft in the fifth degree. Sentencing was set for Thursday.

She was accused of taking cash from an inmate following his arrest on May 22, 2017. Inmate Jesse Harwood had $222 in cash with him at the time of his arrest, according to the original inventory, however when he was released, he only received $122. At the time, the only ones in the jail were a deputy and Robertson; however judge Steven Westercamp said the deputy’s testimony was “credible” and Robertson’s testimony had “inconsistencies” and was “unconvincing.”

Westercamp said video evidence showing Robertson counting the money and announcing twice in 30 seconds how much the inmate had when he was being booked “directly contradicts the defendant’s version of events” when she applied for unemployment in July.

The trial was held on Oct. 16, 2017, and continued to Nov. 13.

Westercamp issued his ruling Jan. 30.

 

FINDINGS OF FACT

In the early morning hours of May 22, 2017, Jesse Harwood was arrested by Deputy Geoff Morris and was booked into the Van Buren County Jail by Jailer-Dispatcher Heather Weber-Robertson. As part of the booking process, which was video recorded by a security camera, Harwood’s personal belongings were inventoried, including $222 in cash. But Harwood received only $122 back when he was released from the jail later that morning following his initial appearance. The defendant, Heather Weber-Robertson, was charged with theft of the missing $100.

The trial testimony of the defendant and Deputy Morris, the only employees present at the jail during the events at issue, differed markedly. Deputy Morris testified that after completion of the booking process he went to his desk for approximately 10 to 15 minutes to prepare paperwork including a seized property receipt received. He testified he then went to the dispatch/control room of the jail to put the seized property receipt in the plastic property pouch which contained Harwood’s belongings inventoried during booking. Deputy Morris testified that he located the property pouch on the floor under the counter near the kneehole for the dispatch computer, the counter being covered by spread-out paperwork. He testified that he picked up the property pouch, put the seized property receipt inside, and as he was returning the property pouch to the floor, he noticed cash on the spot on the floor which had been covered by the property pouch. Deputy Morris testified that he did not touch the money and did not take any money. Deputy Morris testified that the defendant was in the dispatch room when this happened, that he told her to clean up her area and asked her why the money was on the floor. After his recollection was refreshed from a report he prepared May 26, 2017, he testified he thought the defendant told him she had miscounted the money in that she had $222 in cash but had entered $220 in the computer record. Deputy Morris testified he then left the building to go off duty.

In contrast, the defendant testified that she was not in the dispatch room at the same time as Deputy Morris, she did not put the cash directly on the floor, she took the cash out of the manila cash envelope only to recount it, that she did this only after Deputy Morris left the jail building to go off duty, and that when she recounted the cash there was only $122.00. The defendant denied that she took the missing $100.

In assessing the credibility of the deputy and the defendant, the court has compared the testimony of these two witnesses with the testimony of other witnesses, and with the exhibits, especially State’s Exhibit 1, the video recording The booking video reveals the following (with the time stamp):

5:34-8:54: Deputy and defendant ask Harwood who he would like to put down for emergency notification and their contact information. Defendant types the information into the computer (but see State’s Exhibit 3 which was “REFUSED” for Emergency Contact)….

8:55: Defendant picks up Harwood’s wallet.

9:05-9:28: Defendant takes cash from wallet and begins counting the currency aloud in the presence of Harwood and Deputy Morris: “Twenty, forty, sixty, eighty, one-twenty, forty, sixty, eighty, two-, twenty, -two. So two hundred and twenty-two dollars in cash here.”

9:31: Harwood: “How much?”

9:32: Defendant: Two hundred and twenty-two dollars.”

9:34: Harwood: “Holy crap, I’m rich!”

9:35: Defendant; “There you go.”

9:36 to 9:44: Deputy hands defendant a zippered plastic property pouch, similar to State’s Exhibit 2. Defendant removes from front pocket of property pouch a manila envelope with a white paper log form stapled to the front. The printed log form has a space for “Name,” “Date,” “Amount Deposit,” “Officer” and “Balance.”

9:45 to 9:58: Defendant retrieves ink pen from drawer and writes on printed log form on manila envelope moving her hand four times, presumably to write in columns titled “Date,” “Amount Deposit,” “Officer” and “Balance.”

10:02 Defendant places cash in manila envelope. Defendant finds plastic baggie of crystal of material in wallet, hands it to Deputy Morris, who questions Harwood about it.

11:17 to 11:21: Defendant rapidly types, mostly on numeric keypad portion of keyboard.

Thus in the span of 30 seconds, time stamp 9:28 to 9:58, the defendant twice announced the cash total as $222.00 and presumably wrote that amount in two columns “Amount Deposit” and “Balance” on the cash envelope log.

This directly contradicts the defendant’s version of events in a letter dated July 7, 2017, which she wrote for her unemployment appeal: “I enter all information, double check and run all required reports and place them into their appropriate files as trained. When I prepared to write the money on the inmate’s money envelope, as trained, I double counted the cash. I counted it a third time.

I was off from what I had originally counted in booking. I placed the money into the envelope, wrote the correct amount on it, went into the system and made a deduction in our system noting that the original was an error on my part and followed up by printing a new receipt of money for the inmate to review and sign…” It is difficult to believe that the defendant would miswrite the amount of cash twice within 30 seconds after twice announcing the correct amount of $222.00.

It is much easier to believe that when the defendant very rapidly typed on the numeric keypad, she inadvertently typed “2 2 0 . 0 0” rather than “2 2 2 . 0 0” as the “2” key is directly above the “0” key on the numeric keypad.

This would be consistent with the deputy’s testimony, after his recollection was refreshed from his report prepared four days after the incident, that the defendant told him that she counted $222.00 but that the computer statement said $220.00. This would also be consistent with State’s Exhibit 8, an Inmate Cash Account Transaction Receipt, which shows the original entry being adjusted as a deposit in the amount of $220.00.

State’s Exhibit 8 was prepared by the defendant and also showed an adjustment deducting $100.00 leaving a new balance of $122.00, which does not balance.

When asked about the mathematical discrepancy, the defendant testified she thought the computer system computed the new balance automatically and she did not know why the numbers did not add up.

Dispatch Supervisor Lacey VanDeGriff testified that State’s Exhibit 8 was the only document in Harwood’s paper jail file with the original case number. All the other papers in the physical file had a (case number) which was the active computer system file, the (other file number) having been deleted from the computer system.

She testified that in order to create a new computer jail file all the information would have to be re-entered manually because the data could not be electronically transferred from one computer jail file to another. The defendant testified that she did not intentionally create a new computer jail file and did not re-enter the information but instead tried to only adjust the cash balance which she believed she had miscounted. But the defendant’s testimony would not explain why State’s Exhibit 3 stated Harwood refused to provide emergency contact information or why all the documents in the paper file had the new file number, with the exception of State’s Exhibit 8. In her unemployment appeal letter, the defendant emphasized that by signing State’s Exhibit 8 Harwood agreed that he had only $122.00, which might explain why the defendant retained Exhibit 8 in the paper file. But it is apparent from the video that Harwood was confused and under the influence of some intoxicant.

The court has considered the possibility that the missing $100.00, consisting of five $20 bills, was lost rather than stolen, but this explanation is consistent with the defendant’s own testimony that she did not put the cash directly on the floor in the dispatch room and that she took the cash out of the manila cash envelope only to recount it. If in the dispatch room the defendant counted the cash directly out of the envelope, like she testified, she would have counted $222.00, the same as she did on the booking video unless Deputy Morris took the $100.00 out of the envelope.

Thus the court concludes that the $100.00 was taken by either the defendant or the deputy. Having observed the demeanor of both witnesses, and due to the inconsistencies in the defendant’s testimony as compared to the other evidence, the court finds the testimony of Deputy Morris credible and the testimony of the defendant unconvincing.

The court finds the State has established beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant committed theft in the fifth degree by misappropriating $100.00 cash which she had in her possession and control by using or disposing of it in a manner inconsistent with the owner’s rights in such property. The court therefore finds the defendant guilty.”

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