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Spencer indicted

Norwalk Reflector Staff • Oct 28, 2015 at 3:51 PM

A former Huron County sheriff's detective faces eight felonies in connection with mishandling money in the evidence room and providing inaccurate information during a personal theft complaint.

Matthew S. Spencer, 33, of Willard, was indicted Friday on three counts of tampering with evidence and two charges of tampering with records, all third-degree felonies. He also was charged with one count each of theft in office, insurance fraud and falsification, all fifth-degree felonies.

Spencer was in charge of the evidence room when he reported the theft of two firearms, a Fraternal Order of Police emblem, some golf clubs and seven personal checks July 10 from his personal vehicle.

Spencer allegedly stole $10,000 to $15,000 from the evidence room, said Huron County Prosecutor Russell Leffler. Erie County prosecutors, hired as special prosecutors, presented the case Friday to a grand jury.

"I'm very reluctant to give up cases," Leffler said, but decided it was best in the Spencer case because 20 percent of forfeited drug money in felony cases goes to his office.

"I didn't think that was the right kind of case for me to be in," he added.

Erie County Prosecutor Kevin Baxter said Spencer is accused of taking money "that was logged in as evidence." The former detective also reportedly made a false insurance claim to obtain money from his insurance company to return the missing money, he said.

Baxter has handled cases involving police officers before. In 2000, Baxter prosecuted a North Randall police officer who was sentenced to one year in prison for aggravated burglary, extortion and kidnapping. North Randall is in Cuyahoga County.

Assistant Prosecutor Vicki Palmer is handling today's arraignment in Huron County Common Pleas Court. Spencer is expected to plead innocent to the felonies and the court will set his bond and schedule a trial date.

Col. Bob McDowell, who is also Leffler's investigator, served Spencer with a summons Friday afternoon. He estimated he was at Spencer's High Street home for "maybe a minute."

"There really was no reaction. He just said he'd be in court (today) with his attorney," McDowell said. "I don't think he was surprised (to be indicted) at all.

"I felt I should serve it, rather than assign it to a deputy ... who worked with him every day."

Sheriff Richard Sutherland said he was "not at all" surprised that Spencer was indicted.

"On the onset of the investigation, it was plain there was wrongdoing," the sheriff said, but declined to elaborate.

Sutherland said he knew Spencer was accused of stealing evidence room money, but he didn't know how much. The sheriff was surprised to learn Spencer had been accused of wrongdoing when the initial probe began.

"Matt did what he was supposed to do. He was very loyal," Sutherland said when asked to describe the detective's work.

McDowell, Sutherland and the sheriff's twin brother, Chief Deputy Bob Sutherland, investigated the allegations against Spencer for about 1 1/2 days before McDowell said he talked to Sheriff Sutherland about "moneys missing from the evidence room."

McDowell suggested the Ohio Bureau of Identification and Investigation (BCI&I) take over the investigation. After less than two days of the local investigation, Sutherland wrote a letter to request BCI&I get involved.

"We really weren't involved in it that long," McDowell said.

Erie County prosecutors met with a BCI&I agent twice within the last two weeks to ask questions and review the case before deciding what charges to present to the grand jury, McDowell explained.

Spencer was fired July 24 after being on paid administrative leave.

He worked for the Greenwich Police Department for three years, starting Sept. 25, 1997. Spencer became a deputy March 15, 2000. He resigned to be the Greenwich police chief for about a month in May 2003, resigned for personal reasons and rejoined the sheriff's office.

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