State Attorney report damning to embattled Oak Hill cop; probable cause crime committed, but not enough to take to trial; Police Chief Diane Young's leadership called into question

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Suspended Oak Hill cop Mike Ihnken, shown here from his Facebook profile, stands front and center as the main culprit in a State Attorney investigative report that also puts a negative light on Police Chief Diane Young, shown here in this NSBNEWS.net file photo, and at least one deputy in the Volusia County Sheriff's Office. The State Attorney's investigation looked at alleged unlawful activity centered around Ihnken, including allegations that he and Sheriff's deputy William Armstrong made and ignited homemade bombs while on duty, and that Young knew that Ihnken had falsified records. You can read the full State Attorney report by clicking the attachment.

OAK HILL -- A damning report from the State Attorney's Office obtained Tuesday by NSBNEWS.net under Florida's open records laws says "probable cause exists" that embattled Oak Hill police officer Mike Ihnken committed a crime by taking required online tests for fellow officers and affixing their names.

However, the State Attorney investigation report concludes there isn't sufficient evidence to successfully prosecute it in a court of law.

State Attorney Investigator Jack Bisland concluded in part on the criminal allegation of official misconduct against Ihnken: "Probable cause exists to believe that Officer Mike Ihnken, a public servant, unlawfully and with corrupt intent to obtained {sic} a benefit for persons or caused harm to another by falsifying an official record or document... Insufficient evidence and conflicting witness statements however render the case unlikely to prove beyond and to the exclusion of reasonable doubt."

Attempts to reach Ihnken, including leaving messages on his Facebook profile, were unsuccessful Tuesday and early today. On Jan. 6, the Oak Hill Personnel Board voted to recommend Ihnken be fired by the City Commission.

The main allegation against Ihnken stems from a complaint affidavit filed with the State Attorney's Office filed by former Acting Chief Robert Walker, who alleged that Ihnken fraudulently logged onto FDLE's website, representing himself both as Walker and officer Thad Smith completed online training courses and even took the associated tests dealing with the handling of domestic violence, juvenile sex offenders, discriminatory racial profiling and other traffic stops.

Walker, now employed by the Daytona Beach police force and assigned to the cold homicide unit, said Tuesday he was not surprised by the State Attorney's conclusion, but added it's another nail in the coffin for Ihnken's employment as an Oak Hill cop.

"Ihnken was definitely one to cut corners," Walker said. "Hell, I doubt he even saw the corners. I think he has a disconnect or an ability to justify anything: One of the most thoroughly corrupt cops I've ever seen, and I've seen a bunch in 27 years."

Walker's complaint affidavit didn't end with Ihnken, but also the cop who the Oak Hill City Commission voted in to replace him when he abruptly resigned from the force in October 2009: Diane Young, hired despite admissions that she had a prior serious cocaine addiction.

"Diane Young knew that Ihnken was a crooked cop," Walker insisted. "She once told me that Ihnken had stolen a bunch of Christmas Gift cards from the food and toy drive and she was angry about it, but she never mentioned it publicly because the Food and Toy drive is sacred milk in Oak Hill."

Attempts by NSBNEWS.net to reach Young on Tuesday through messages left with the police department and later by calling a Sheriff's dispatcher officer to get in touch with her or one of her officers to get word to her were unsuccessful.

Messages were also left with the Oak Hill City Clerk's Office by NSBNEWS.net seeking comment from Mayor Darla Lauer went unanswered Tuesday.

The board acted on a request for termination from Police Chief Diane Young, who has charged Ihnken with failing to follow proper policies and procedures.

Inkhen responded to the city in writing following the board's recommendation with the threat of a lawsuit, if necessary to keep his job..

“I am very, very disappointed by the outcome of tonight’s hearing, but frankly I am not in the least surprised,” Ihnken wrote. “I intend on taking this to the city commission and if they also choose to turn a deaf ear to the truth about this as well, then I will explore my options in civil litigation against Chief Young and the city of Oak Hill..”

Young has maintained that Ihnken did not maintain his firearms instructor’s certification, which caused the city’s entire force to lose their ability to carry firearms. This happened on June 10.

Failure to maintain certification ultimately caused the police force to shut down for 24 hours until an instructor from the Volusia County Sheriff’s Office qualified the force again. As a result, the police chief demoted Ihnken from sergeant to police officer.

Young sought his firing in the closing weeks of 2010, claiming Ihnken's failure to keep his firearms certification up to date forced her to literally shut police operations down on June 24 for 24 hours in favor of coverage by the Sheriff's Office so that the Oak Hill officers could get re-certified so they could carry firearms on duty.

Young then demoted Ihnken from sergeant to officer. She later placed him on unpaid suspension, prompting the Jan. 6 hearing during which Ihnken acknowledged mistakes were made while also accusing Young of not being more responsible for the management of the cops under her command.

Young countered that she depended on Ihnken to be a leader as the department's lone sergeant and to handle responsibilities delegated to him.

The investigation by the State Attorney's Office stemmed from a complaint affidavit signed by Walker alleging that on April 19, 2009, Ihnken had taken the FDLE online tests on the police department's Oak Hill police computer and that Young actually saw him doing just that.

Walker's complaint affidavit was forwarded to the State Attorney's Office on July 8, after he filed the initial complaint with Young five days earlier, resulting in Bisland getting the investigation assignment. He reached out to his former employer from which he retired from, the Florida Department of La Enforcement, and an investigator from that agency, Rose Davis, was assigned to work the investigation with Bisland.

They interviewed Young, Walker and a host of other current and former cops.

While Bisland concluded criminal culpability for Ihnken, the State Attorney investigator concluded in his report of Walker's allegation against Young, that there was "insufficient evidence " to warrant any criminal wrongdoing on her part.

One of the more disturbing allegations in the State Attorney's investigative report was an allegation that Ihnken and Volusia County Sheriff's deputy William "Bill" Armstrong were making and exploding homemade bombs while on duty, known as "The Works," toilet bowl cleaner and aluminum foil mixed in an empty 2-liter soda bottle.

Oak Hill police officer Brian Riley told State Attorney Investigator Bisland that he was with Ihnken on a night shift in December 2009 in their three respective patrol cars when Ihnken insisted he stick around and watch the detonation of one of these bombs.

Riley said Armstrong took the device from his Sheriff's patrol car trunk and shook it up and placed it on the ground before it exploded.

Riley said he told both Armstrong and Ihnken they were both "crazy" for doing this and he left.

Pressed by Bisland what motivated Ihnken and Armstrong to engage in such behavior, Riley responded: "I think just for fun, just to see it happen, just something to do, it's pretty boring out in Oak Hill."

Armstrong was questioned by Bisland, denying any involvement in the making or exploding of homemade bombs. Armstrong said he only lit firecrackers. When pressed if he witnessed Riley or Ihnken being involved in exploding the homemade bombs, Armstrong responded, "No I don't remember that."

Bisland then asked Armstrong if his answer was "No I didn't" or "No I don't remember," Armstrong responded, "I don't remember.

In his investigative report, Bisland said he asked Armstrong "Why witnesses would tell us that not only he not only was there but that he was the one who constructed the device."

Armstrong responded: "I'm not gonna answer any more questions about me, if we are here to talk about the Oak Hill Police Department, then we'll do that."

Bisland responded: "Fair enough."

Armstrong also told Bisland he was counseled not to have any dealings with Oak Hill cops. Armstrong didn't say who advised him of that, but he did say he was going to seek out an attorney.

NSBNEWS.net reached out to the Sheriff's Office just after 4:30 p.m. Tuesday after receiving Bisland's report. Sheriff's spokesman Gary Davidson, who fields media inquiries for Sheriff Ben Johnson to put in writing any requests for information or comments about the allegations involving deputy Armstrong.

Here is what NSBNEWS.net wrote in the e-mail to Davidson, sent at 4:52 p.m.

The State Attorney's Office in an FDLE report on an investigation of the Oak Hill Police Department for alleged official misconduct makes reference to Sheriff's deputy William Armstrong. 1. Armstrong denies making or participating in the making of bombs and exploding them with the Oak Hill police. He was questioned whether he made and discharged a homemade bomb device known as "the works" MY QUESTIONS: A) Is the Sheriff's Office aware that Deputy Armstrong was questioned by Investigator Bisland of the State Attorney's Office in reference to alleged bomb making devices and exploding them? B ) Has Sheriff's Office asked Armstrong of such incident(s) if aware? If so, was he disciplined. I received a copy of the report today from the State Attorney's Office.

 

NSBNEWS.net then followed up with a call to Davidson a minute later during which he acknowledged receipt of the e-mail and considering the time of day he doubted he would have answers by the close of the business day. NSBNEWS.net replied his response was more than reasonable and wanted to give him a head's up for the start of Wednesday to go through official channels.

Of the bomb-making accusations, State Attorney Bisland said that based on conflicting statements he could not substantiate allegations of criminal wrongdoing by Ihnken or Armstrong.

Besides Armstrong and Ihnken, another prominent name popped up in Bisland's report: former Oak Hill police officer Brandy Sutherlin.He's the fomer Oak Hill cop who resigned after NSBNEWS.net first broke the story that he was involved in a high-speed pursuit of another vehicle the night of April 24. Problem was, he was off-duty and his wife was behind the wheel of the family car while he was shooting his handgun at the other vehicle for cutting them off earlier. To make matters worse, the Sutherlins' three small children were in the backseat as a Sheriff's dispatcher pleaded with him to slow down for the sake of the children.

NSBNEWS.net file photo / Then-Oak Hill police officer Brandy Sutherlin, at left in the photo, fills out a report while Oak Hill Police Chief Diane Young greets his wife, Christina, in a gas station parking lot across from the New Smyrna Speedway, after the couple told troopers they were victims of a road-rage incident that began on I-95 and continued onto S.R. 44, resulting in the off-duty cop shooting his gun at the other motorist's vehicle. The man to the right with a black T-shirt with the word "Police" on it, is Oak Hill cop Mike Ihnken. Listen to the 9-1-1 call.

Sutherlin resigned from the police force six days after the incident. He was hired just shy of a year ago by the City Commission at the urging of Young. 

State Attorney Investigator Bisland doesn't go into too much detail about Sutherlin, but did reference to a separate investigation ongoing involving Sutherlin. Much of Bisland's questioning of Young and of Sutherlin himself are redacted in the report on Ihnken.

The incidents involving Ihnken date back to early 2009, when the department was being led by then-Chief Guy Grasso, who had to retire in January 2010, after missing most of the previous year from a serious neck and back injury when his patrol car was rear-ended by another motorist while he was attempting to turn into the police station lot. Walker was the acting chief before he resigned a year ago in December, which paved the way for Young to get the nod as acting chief and then the permanent position.

Her leadership was called into question immediately after taking over for Walker, when for two days straight, TV news camera crews and a couple of metro newspaper reporters followed Young after an Orlando media outlet received a tip several days earlier that she had admitted on her job application six years earlier  as a rookie cop that she used cocaine 100 times more than 20 years earlier. But at a City Commission in early December 2009, officials and residents alike reiterated that Young's tenure on the police force has been outstanding and nothing has changed even with the intense media scrutiny. There was no media on the third day, with the exception of NSBNEWS.net, which interviewed Young just prior to leading the Oak Hill Christmas Parade in her squad car.

"I think it's malicious -- I feel it's malicious," Young said of her past being dredged up at this time. "I never tried to hide anything. I felt my past was my past."

Young said she used cocaine over a two-year period between 1984-'86 after losing her job in the skydiving industry and sinking into an abyss. But then at the age of 48, she got an associate's degree in law enforcement and then went into the police academy.

She applied for a job as a cop in Oak Hill and put the cocaine use on her application because "it was the right thing to do." Then-Police Chief Gus Beckstrom hired her after a background check from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement validated she had no criminal record.

Since her hiring, her record has been stellar, according to departmental records in her personnel file, including being named the department's "Police Officer of the Year" in 2005. She's developed several successful community policing programs in Oak Hill, including a check list of all elderly residents who live alone with health needs and mentoring elementary school children under a program called "Character Counts."

News of Young's past surfaced just a few days after Oak Hill city officials announced she and four others were in the running to be named interim police chief until Grasso could return from disability leave. During that meeting, the commission eliminated the other candidates without even considering their qualifications.

The following January, when Grasso was forced to retire, Young was named permanent chief by Young. One of her first personnel decisions was pushing for Sutherlin's hiring part-time and later full-time. She also had to deal with a litany of criminal allegations against Ihnken prior to the fraudulent online testing episode.

Just four months before Walker filed his complaint affidavit against Ihnken, then-Sgt. Ihnken cleared of an accusation that he stole a dead man's wallet containing $55, the State Attorney's Office announced that March..

A review of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement investigation determined there was "insufficient evidence to charge or convict Sgt. Ihnken with any crime," Assistant State Attorney spokesman Chris Kelly told NSBNEWS.net at that time.

Inhken has been on paid suspension since August of 2008, when then-Police Chief Grasso asked FDLE to look into the matter after another officer said Ihnken was acting suspicious about the incident. The wallet had been placed in the evidence locker after police responded to an unattended death the previous month at an East Aeriel Road home. The State Attorney's Office reviewed statements from the accusing officer, Robert Walker, and in a letter dated Jan. 15, 2009, Managing Assistant State Attorneys Celeste Gagne and Ben Fox determined witness accounts did not provide "proof beyond a reasonable doubt."

Both Walker and Grasso said Tuesday they were stunned Ihnken has lasted this long despite the bevy of investigations and complaints against him. Even in State Attorney Bisland's investigative report, Young dubbed Ihnken the "Golden Boy" for managing to survive investigations by the State Attorney's Office and FDLE.

Grasso told NSBNEWS.net Tuesday night he was disheartened by the latest turn of events regarding the conclusion of the State Attorney's most recent investigation of Ihnken.

"Unfortunately, the state's limited financially in going for a prosecution like this," Grasso said. "I can tell you it was a struggle with the lack of cooperation I had from the City Commission."

Grasso added, "It's heartbreaking that I put Ihnken in charge at night as the sergeant; as the senior officer, he was responsible for making sure everything was lawful and just. I promoted Ihnken and he broke my trust."

Grasso said he received several complaints about Ihnken from his officers, sometimes months later where he was limited in dealing with Ihnken because of a lack of cooperation by the officers and a less than sympathetic commission.

Among the complaints made well after the fact were the firing of service revolvers by others in the department during overnight hours, an issue he had reiterated earlier with Bisland as part of his investigative report.

In the July 20 interview with Bisland, Grasso stated that he "found empty shell casings in the hood of (police) vehicles near the windshield."

Walker was even more blunt Tuesday night when asked by NSBNEWS.net to respond to what Grasso had said to Bisland: in the report: "The city maintenance worker was finding expended ammunition on the engine blocks of the patrol cars. These Yahoos were going out on Maytown Road and taking target practice at night. On one occasion they took a bunch of stuffed animals out of the childrens Christmas toy drive and went to a private gun range where they proceeded to shoot the stuffed animals into a hundred pieces. The range owner was so upset he almost banned Oak Hill PD from ever using the range again. These folks were off the chain."

Walker, who was so fed up by what he had to deal with as acting chief, walked into a city commission meeting and slapped his badge down on the table and informed the mayor and commissioners he was done, added Tuesday night: "You couldn't keep up with all the crap at Oak Hill PD. One day some of the cops would be photographing a dead alligator propped up on the hood of a police car with a cigarette in it's mouth, and the next day they would be standing around a burn barrel behind the police station burning the body of a dead raccoon and giggling like idiots."

Walker added: I thought 'What am I doing around these psychopaths? These guys aren't cops; they're dirtbags." 

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