Former police narcotics supervisor agrees to plea bargain

A former Columbus Police Department narcotics division supervisor has pleaded guilty to two felonies and a misdemeanor relating to missing drug evidence from the department’s evidence room.

Jeremy R. Coomes, 39, who lives on the northeast side of Columbus, pleaded guilty Thursday in Bartholomew Circuit Court to Level 3 felony possession of methamphetamine, a less serious Level 6 felony official misconduct and Class A misdemeanor theft as part of a plea bargain agreement.

The agreement, which leaves sentencing up to Judge Stephen Heimann, contains no sentencing recommendation from the prosecution.

The parties agreed that prosecutors will not object to Coomes’ referral to the Veterans Court of Southern Indiana for supervisory purposes only as a special term of probation, if the court finds it appropriate and the Veterans Court agrees. Successful completion of any Veterans Court program will not affect Coomes’ convictions nor automatically waive any executed portion of the sentence Coomes may receive, the plea bargain states.

The Veterans Court is a specialized court for veterans in the court system seeking treatment for alcohol/substance addiction or serious mental health illness to provide rehabilitation and a return to society. Coomes served in the Navy before joining the police department in January 2005 at age 27.

Coomes and his attorney Edward Merchant of Indianapolis had no comment on the plea bargain when approached after the hearing. Special Prosecutor Cynthia E. Crispin of Connersville also said she had no statement after the hearing.

Coomes, who resigned from the police department on Oct. 22, 2015, was accused of obtaining narcotics out of the police department’s evidence room under the guise of using them in educational programs, court documents state. He was accused of checking out drug evidence in as many as 10 cases from the Columbus Police Department’s property room. But when that 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, court documents state.

During the hearing, Crispin read a statement into the record detailing the dates that Coomes was accused of checking out evidence, beginning in 2014 and again in 2015, which included evidence bags of methamphetamine, oxycodone, marijuana and heroin, which were to be used in presentations before the department’s Public Safety Citizen Academy, where local residents can sign up to learn more about how police do their jobs.

The Columbus Police Department began an internal investigation Oct. 12, 2015, after the department’s property room sergeant could not find one narcotics item that should have been in the room, Columbus Police Chief Jon Rohde told The Republic in an earlier interview. The police department had conducted an audit of the property room in September 2015 as part of its accreditation process.

The department’s property manager contacted Coomes to ask where the missing item was, and Coomes said it was in the narcotics vault at the police department, court records state. Police later found a container in the vault marked “Public Safety Academy” containing multiple evidence items, including the missing one, court records stated.

However, when compared to lists from Coomes’ check-out requests, there were discrepancies, including missing pills, drugs not packaged as originally submitted and different evidence weights.

Coomes admitted to having a substance-abuse problem during a meeting Oct. 10, 2015 at his home, when Rohde, two other city police 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. Afterward, Rohde asked the Indiana State Police to take over the investigation.

After the investigation was complete, Coomes was arrested and booked into the Bartholomew County Jail on March 30, then released after posting $75,000 bond. On paperwork filed with booking documents, he listed his employer as a local construction company.

Charges against Coomes that would be dismissed as part of the plea bargain include felony possession of cocaine, felony theft, felony possession of a narcotic drug, another felony possession of methamphetamine charge, misdemeanor possession of a controlled substance, misdemeanor possession of marijuana and another misdemeanor theft charge, court documents state.

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

The felony methamphetamine conviction carries a fixed term between three and 16 years in prison, with the advisory sentence being nine years, according to the plea agreement. The felony official misconduct conviction carries a prison term of six months to two-and-a-half years with the advisory sentence being one year. The misdemeanor theft conviction carries a fixed term of not more than one year.

The court may assess fines of $10,000 each for the felonies and not more than $5,000 for the misdemeanor conviction, court records state.

The Bartholomew County Probation Department will complete a presentence investigation report on Coomes prior to sentencing.

Prosecutors said earlier no pending or closed local cases were affected by the evidence-tampering allegations in the Coomes case.

Sentencing

Former Columbus Police Department narcotics division supervisor Jeremy R. Coomes is scheduled to be sentenced at 1:30 p.m. Dec. 29.

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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.