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Eastpointe

March 6, 2013

Ex-cop sentenced to a year of probation

Royal Oak attorney questions department practices, threatens civil suit

By Sara Kandel
C & G Staff Writer

EASTPOINTE — a former Eastpointe police detective who was accused of selling items from forfeiture for personal gain was sentenced to one year of probation in Macomb County Circuit Court Feb. 26.

Timothy Stopczynski, 41, resigned from the Eastpointe Police Department in September 2012 amidst the internal investigation into his professional conduct that resulted in two felony charges — one count of misconduct in office and one count of embezzlement by a trustee, which was later dropped.

Defense attorney Fred Gibson explained that the embezzlement charge was dropped during plea discussions with the prosecutor under a Cobbs agreement, which specified that, if the sentencing judge did not agree, Stopczynski could withdraw the plea deal.

Macomb County Circuit Court Judge Antonio Viviano stressed the seriousness of Stopczynski’s actions but agreed with the plea deal and issued the one-year probation sentence under state guidelines for the sole misconduct offense.

“Michigan has sentencing guidelines based on a point system, in which multiple factors are considered to offer guidelines for sentencing,” Gibson said.

“In this incident — the misconduct charge and the fact that he had no prior criminal history — the points were zero to six months, meaning a sentencing guideline of probation, which is what he received, up to six months in jail.”

Stopczynski will have to follow standard probation guidelines and requirements, including but not limited to random drug testing, no contact with criminals and no possession of weapons. As a result of the felony charge, he is not eligible under the Michigan Commission on Law Enforcement Standards to resume his career in law enforcement.

Stopczynski had been with the department for 14 years when the allegations of misconduct arose. Despite the charges, many say he was a good cop.

“By all means, before this happened, he was a good, hardworking cop. He received many commendations and accolades in his time here,” said Eastpointe City Manager Steve Duchane.

“I don’t feel bad. He shouldn’t have done what he did. But when you watch 14 years of someone’s career disintegrate, especially when he is still young enough to live a long time with this burden on him, it doesn’t feel good,  either.”

While Stopczynski did express remorse in court, his actions could potentially have lasting effects on the department.

A Royal Oak attorney is threatening a civil suit against the City of Eastpointe that stems from the charges against Stopczynski.

James Lawrence alleges that Stopczynski took items during a raid on his client’s home that were not declared in the report against his client and that other members of the Eastpointe Police Department have worked to cover up improper actions by Stopczynski and other officers on the night of the raid.

According to Lawrence, in May 2012, the Eastpointe Police Department raided a Harrison Township home, taking multiple items into evidence, threatening the occupants of the home and arresting his client, John Klein, on two drug charges — possession with intent to distribute marijuana and operating a drug house.

Stopczynski was in charge of the raid and the charges against Klein were dropped. Lawrence claims that, despite requests, the seized items were never returned to Klein, and that during and following the raid, multiple officers handled the situation inappropriately. 

“I’m going to be filing a civil lawsuit against the City of Eastpointe in federal court,” Lawrence said. “We are asking for three times the value of the property taken and we are suing for damages to the teenage son and wife of my client.”

The Eastsider obtained a copy of the return and tabulation form, or list of items seized during the May 2 raid. Items listed include two vehicles, multiple jade figurines, nine cellphones, marijuana, marijuana paraphernalia and $401.

The document includes the signatures of Klein, Stopczynski and Stopczynski’s partner, who also resigned during the misconduct investigation.

Lawrence claims that the document is not accurate and that the two officers took much more than what is listed. He also claims that the department refuses to return the items.

“The suspect signed recognizing the amount of money and property seized; his signature indicates that that is all the officers took during the seizure,” Duchane said in response to the allegations. “We told them to come on in and pick up their stuff.”

According to emails obtained by the Eastsider, the city has maintained the availability of seized items in emails to Lawrence. In an email to Lawrence dated Jan. 7, city attorney Rich Albright wrote:

“Your clients may retrieve the two (2) subject motor vehicles upon payment of the impound costs. As of January 3, 2013, the costs totaled $3,114.00 per vehicle. You are also welcome to schedule an appointment to go through the inventory on hand and retrieve any cellphones that are the property of your clients.”

Lawrence said one of his main concerns with the department is highlighted in Albright’s email.

“Even Detroit is better than Eastpointe,” he said. “They have all this evidence just thrown into a big pile; even in Detroit, they box evidence and seized items by case. They have to show a chain of evidence.”

According to acting Police Chief Scott Bourgeois, claims to retrieve seized items must be submitted within 20 days, or they are moved to forfeiture storage to eventually be sold at police auctions.

There has not been a police auction in the city in some time.  At press time, the date of the last auction could not be confirmed; however, Duchane confirmed that there hasn’t been one since he became city manager in fall 2011.  Therefore, all of Klein’s property should be in the department’s forfeiture storage shed.

You can reach C & G Staff Writer Sara Kandel at skandel@candgnews.com or at (586)498-1030.