Documents: Officer obtained drugs from evidence

A former Columbus Police Department narcotics division supervisor is accused of obtaining narcotics out of the department’s evidence room under the guise of using them in educational programs.

Such details are revealed in a 24-page probable-cause affidavit by an Indiana State Police investigator, which instead suggests the police officer removed the drugs for personal use.

Jeremy R. Coomes, 38, who lives on the northeast side of Columbus, is accused in Bartholomew Circuit Court of 10 criminal counts related to possession of drugs including methamphetamine, heroin, cocaine and marijuana, plus theft and misconduct.

Charges were filed by special prosecutor Cynthia Crispin of Connersville.

The former undercover officer was arrested Wednesday at an undisclosed Columbus address and immediately bonded out of Bartholomew County Jail after posting 10 percent of a $75,000 bond, jail officials said.

His initial hearing is set for 8:30 a.m. May 9 in Bartholomew Circuit Court before Judge Stephen Heimann. Coomes did not have an attorney listed in court records as representing him as of Thursday afternoon.

Information contained in the probable-cause affidavit said Coomes checked out drug evidence in as many as 10 cases from the Columbus Police Department’s property room. But when the evidence was returned, some of it was missing; some of it had been replaced with other substances; and evidence packet seals had been tampered with or altered on other evidence, court documents state. The evidence is connected to cases dating back to 2009, including items seized by Coomes and other Columbus officers.

Coomes joined the Columbus Police Department in January 2005 and began working undercover in 2009, court documents state. He had been the narcotics unit supervisor since December of 2011.

Court documents state Coomes is charged with:

Two counts of felony methamphetamine possession

Felony cocaine possession

Felony possession of a narcotic drug

Felony official misconduct

One count of felony theft and two counts of misdemeanor theft

Misdemeanor possession of a controlled substance

Misdemeanor possession of marijuana

Penalties for the felony charges range up to 31 years in prison, and for the misdemeanors up to 3½ years in prison. Total fines for the felony and misdemeanor charges could range up to $76,000.

In the felony theft count, Coomes is accused of taking methamphetamine and/or cocaine from the department with an estimated street value of $50,000, court documents state.

The Columbus Police Department initially conducted an internal investigation into missing evidence from its property room last fall, after which the Indiana State Police was asked by Police Chief Jon Rohde to take over the case.

When state police investigators spoke with Coomes, who resigned Oct. 22 when the department initiated his termination, the former officer said he had given his heart and soul to the Columbus Police Department, and he considered the department like his family.

But Coomes admitted having a substance-abuse problem during a meeting Oct. 10 at his home, in which Rohde, two other officers and a police chaplain spent more than two hours with Coomes and his wife — at Coomes’ request. Family members, with the chaplain’s help, attempted to find a treatment facility for Coomes, court documents state.

When interviewed Jan. 21 by a state police detective, Coomes said it was heartbreaking to know what he had put his friends and family through, and that he didn’t have anything to hide.

Coomes also told the detective that if it wasn’t for his wife and children, he would tell investigators everything without an attorney — and if it wasn’t for his wife, Coomes would “probably be dead or in a ditch somewhere.”

Coomes said he had “gone away” for 30 days and “learned a lot,” with the time away helping him, court documents stated. Coomes told the detective that it would have been better if he had gone six months earlier, court documents stated. They do not say where Coomes went.

Attempts to reach Coomes through a family member Thursday were unsuccessful.

Internal investigation

The Columbus Police Department began its internal investigation Oct. 12 after the department’s property room sergeant — who logs in drugs, guns, jewelry, money and other confiscated or recovered materials in and out of the property room — could not find one item of narcotics that should have been in the room, Rohde said in an earlier interview with The Republic. The police department had conducted an audit of the property room in September as part of an accreditation process.The court documents state that Coomes supervised the undercover narcotics officers at the police department, and participated as a presenter for the department’s Public Safety Academy. As part of the academy, local residents sign up to learn about the police department and its procedures, including how the department conducts drug investigations.

State police investigators found an email that Coomes sent to the property room manager with a list of evidence that could be destroyed, which Coomes said he might use for a presentation at the academy. State Police investigators also obtained a list of evidence items Coomes checked out in August 2014 for a presentation.

In September, the property manager had contacted Coomes to ask where the missing narcotics item was, and Coomes told him it was in a narcotics vault at the police department, court documents state.

Police later found a blue container in the narcotics vault marked “Public Safety Academy” which contained multiple items of evidence, including the missing bag of evidence, court documents state.

However, when the property manager compared the items in the blue container to lists related to Coomes’ evidence check-out requests, there were discrepancies, including missing pills; drugs not packaged as they originally were submitted to the evidence room, such as a glass smoking device in a package that was not supposed to be there; and evidence weights that were different from their original packages when admitted into evidence.

Nine of the 10 items previously had been weighed and analyzed at the Indiana State Police lab at the request of the Columbus Police Department for the original cases, court documents stated. Investigators found some of the drugs had been replaced with fake substitutes, including substances that are not narcotics or a gravel-like substance.

An evidence bag containing methamphetamine and cocaine that Coomes had checked out in June from the evidence room was recovered empty at his home Oct. 21 by Columbus Police during the internal investigation, court documents state.

The department’s current policy — updated after the evidence-room audit — calls for an officer who checks out property to return it to the property room within 24 hours, Rohde said in a previous interview.

If drugs are being checked out, the item is weighed before it leaves the property room, and weighed when it is returned.

When the property room manager called Coomes to ask about the discrepancies and about another item Coomes had checked out a few months prior, Coomes said the questions would be answered when officers talked to the investigator conducting the internal investigation, court records state.

Suspect behavior

According to the court documents, Rohde told state police investigators that Jason Hyer, a former Columbus Board of Works member who had attended the 2015 Public Safety Academy, had told him that Coomes might have been under the influence of drugs when he made a presentation to the academy Sept. 10.Court records state when Indiana State Police interviewed Hyer by phone, he said Coomes had walked into the room for the academy presentation and stopped near a poster hanging on a wall, which was a target. Hyer said Coomes stared at the target for awhile and was talking to himself, behavior that Hyer described as bizarre.

Hyer told the state police that Coomes brought in evidence bags to show the class, most of them containing pills, court records state.

The Indiana State Police obtained Coomes’ cellphone and department-issued laptop, court records state. The phone contained three pictures of a toilet with a CPD evidence bag and a white crystal-like substance in the toilet, court records state.

The phone’s search history also revealed searches about medication commonly prescribed to help an addict get clean and finding a doctor to treat opioid dependence.

Cases are not affected

Bartholomew County Prosecutor Bill Nash said Thursday that no pending or closed local cases have been affected by evidence-tampering allegations in the Coomes case.Nash, who emphasized he is not part of the investigation into Coomes, said he received a report about the case as a courtesy from the state police and was able to determine that no pending or closed cases would be affected by allegations made against the former officer.“We have ID’d zero cases where alleged actions by Coomes would or could potentially affect a closed or a pending case,” Nash said.

What's next

Former Columbus Police narcotics division supervisor Jeremy Coomes is scheduled to appear in Bartholomew Circuit Court before Judge Stephen Heimann for an initial hearing at 8:30 a.m. May 9.

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Julie McClure is assistant managing editor of The Republic. She can be reached at jmcclure@therepublic.com or (812) 379-5631.