Grand Traverse County Sheriff Tom Bensley needs to be asked the tough questions. To Betsy Coffia’s credit, she tried asking the sheriff to answer questions that he needs to answer at a county commission meeting. — Questions about the way he handled Todd Ritter, why he thinks he deserves more money, and mostly about Todd Ritter. (I think Nate Alger needs a few questions directed at him, too, about how things were done during his tenure at GTSO.)
Coffia didn’t get to ask her questions at the commission meeting, so we’re posting them here.
1) A jail administrator has an enormous amount of power over people’s lives, both inmates and corrections officers. Such power requires close oversight.
Who had direct oversight of Capt. Ritter as jail administrator?
What was the actual chain of command?
How often did the jail administrator’s supervisor visit the jail on a monthly, quarterly and annual basis during Ritter’s tenure, and what did those visits consist of?
How often did you as Sheriff visit the jail on a monthly, quarterly and annual basis during Ritter’s tenure, and what did those visits consist of?
What specifically did you do to assess Ritter’s effectiveness and how often?
2) In making budget requests of the commission to hire more staff, you have pointed to turnover and morale as challenges your department has faced. Turnover is expensive to the taxpayer as it requires increased overtime pay to cover shifts.
Do you believe Capt. Ritter’s abuses of power and the culture he created in the jail contributed to that turnover?
3) You appointed Undersheriff Shea to his current position in October 2018. He got his first red flag about Capt. Ritter’s leadership in an Oct. 17, 2018 e-mail from a corrections officer’s spouse. We understand this same person had written to you twice attempting to raise the same concerns, in April 2018 and Sept 2018.
Why did you not respond to her the two times she wrote directly to you about concerns with Capt. Ritter’s leadership?
Did you take any action internally in response to her April and September e-mails and if so, what actions?
Did you have any other written or verbal complaints about Capt. Ritter’s performance and what did you do about them?
4) Once he started as undersheriff and made his Open Door policy known, Undersheriff Shea heard many complaints from corrections staff about Capt. Ritter. We applaud the corrections officers who came to him with their concerns in early 2019, and we applaud Undersheriff Shea for doing his job and choosing to investigate.
What specific steps were in place during Ritter’s tenure for his subordinates to come to you with their concerns?
Do you have a whistleblower policy and what does it say? Was it in place during Ritter’s tenure?
Why do you think the corrections officers who came forward only felt comfortable talking off site?
Given the alleged theft and sexual misconduct spanned from 2014 to 2019, why do you think corrections officers did not feel they could come forward sooner with concerns about Ritter’s activity?
5) You wrote to Capt. Ritter May 19, 2019 alleging sex with inmates, theft of county funds and supplies, drug use on duty and abuse of county vehicles, travel privileges, porn and explicit images of female inmates on his work phone and work computer, and more. He now faces four felonies for these same incidents.
Why did you allow him to resign, instead of firing him?
In retrospect, do you feel that was the right decision?
6) The Attorney General’s special prosecutor is alleging that Ritter’s sexual activity was assault. It is certainly questionable whether any inmate or even parolee could actually consent to a sexual relationship with a jail administrator, given the power imbalance.
What specific steps would an inmate be expected to take if they wanted to report they were being coerced into sex by a corrections employee?
Who would that complaint go to and who would investigate it?
7) Your May 19, 2019 letter to Capt. Ritter illuminates a timeline of five years.
How was this abuse of power able to go on for so long?
8) In light of the Ritter case, what specific and substantive changes to your oversight, accountability practices, policies and procedures have you implemented?
For example, can the captain (or any individual) access other employees’ computer accounts or access closed-circuit camera footage within the jail without a second party approval?
We cannot wait to hear Sheriff Bensley actually answer these questions. Who is going to protect him from having to?
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