Did Heroin Addiction Lead a Vermont Police Officer to Steal?

Colchester Police Det. Cpl. Tyler Kinney is accused of stealing drugs from the evidence locker

A Colchester, Vermont, police officer accused of stealing drugs and a gun from his department's evidence locker may have been motivated by his own heroin addiction, new court documents indicate.

At a federal court hearing Wednesday, Tyler Kinney, a detective corporal with the Colchester Police Department, was ordered held by the U.S. Marshals Service until the initial appearance hearing continues Friday. His attorney will use that time to locate drug treatment options for Kinney, the lawyer said.

Kinney, 38, of Jericho, is accused of stealing and re-distributing heroin and possessing a stolen firearm. He also allegedly stole medications from the voluntary drop-off box for unused medicines that sits in the police department's lobby. Kinney did not enter a plea at the court hearing.

"We just can't underestimate the challenge we're facing with addiction in this state. The other 49 states are no different," Gov. Peter Shumlin, D-Vermont, said Wednesday. "My heart goes out to police in Colchester who are doing a great job--and to the people of Colchester who are dealing with this one. This is a terrible, terrible disease. It makes folks do things they'd never otherwise do."

The criminal complaint, written by a special agent with the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives, alleges Kinney befriended a man the Colchester Police arrested, and that the officer would use heroin with the suspect after the suspect's release. The pair would sometimes use pure heroin intended to train drug-sniffing police dogs, the criminal complaint alleges.

Kinney was in charge of evidence handling at the police station, the department said, and allegedly pocketed heroin from the evidence locker. He also would allegedly steal other drugs from evidence, which his buddy would then swap on the streets for heroin.

The affidavit says the police officer revealed to federal investigators he had been using opiates for a year, and was trying to enter recovery from heroin addiction.

"I have no reason to believe anyone else was involved," Chief Jennifer Morrison of the Colchester Police Dept. told New England Cable News.

NECN asked Morrison if she had suspected Kinney was addicted to opiates. "I have no firsthand knowledge of that," Morrison answered. If that is the case, it's certainly a tragic situation, but it does not in any way diminish the fact that he has violated the absolute core of what law enforcement stands for."

The charging documents show the situation came to light when the Burlington Police Dept. confiscated a gun as part of one of its investigations. The court papers say records showed that gun was supposed to be in Colchester's evidence lock-up. The papers say the officer stole the firearm so the friend he would use drugs with could have protection.

"If, in fact, this is a drug addiction issue that prompted or played a part in this alleged conduct, then that's a wake-up call for law enforcement and a lot of others that addiction can be steps away for everyone," said Vermont Attorney General Bill Sorrell.

Morrison said a complete audit will be conducted on the evidence in Colchester's secure storage facility. That audit will be conducted with the oversight of outside agencies, Morrison noted.

"It's too soon in this investigation to figure out where the system broke down, but what I do know is our policy is sound," Chief Morrison told NECN. "You can have all the safeguards and all the policies in place that you want; you can have the absolute best-practice procedures in place, but as long as human beings are going to be handling drugs, money, and guns, there is still room for human error."

Morrison said after the comprehensive audit is complete, she will likely have a better sense of how the alleged evidence theft occurred. She indicated the Vermont State Police and FBI may give her guidance on how to proceed with evidence handling policies, after the audit wraps up.

Kinney's family declined to comment to reporters as they left federal court.

The officer's attorney, John Pacht, said his client is communicating well. Pacht said he hopes to find a bed for Kinney in a residential drug treatment program. That will be discussed further at the hearing scheduled for Friday afternoon. 

Kinney, a 12-year veteran of the Colchester Police Department, is on unpaid leave and has not tendered a resignation, Chief Morrison told NECN.

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