As new Hebron police chief is ‘overhauling’ department, concerns raised over evidence room security

Illinois State Police inquire about cash seized in two cases from 2005, 2011

The Hebron Police Department, 12007 Prairie Ave. in Hebron, on Thursday, April 28, 2023. McHenry County State's Attorney Patrick Kenneally said in a letter that the village of Hebron Police Department's evidence room had not been maintained "in a sufficiently secure manner," leading potential chain-of-command questions that could impact cases prior to February.

The village of Hebron’s evidence room “had not been maintained in a sufficiently secure manner,” raising questions about evidence in cases filed before February, McHenry County State’s Attorney Patrick Kenneally said in a letter to village officials.

Kenneally’s letter was prompted by a notice from the Hebron Village Attorney, stating that the department’s evidence vault had been assessed by the Illinois State Police and found not to have been secured.

The notice to the McHenry County State’s Attorney’s Office followed an inquiry from the Illinois State Police about two cases from 2005 and 2011, Hebron Police Chief Juanita Gumble said.

Gumble, who was sworn in Jan. 30, said she has been “overhauling” the department and its procedures.

The finding regarding the evidence vault is “a major problem because it undermines our ability to prosecute any cases where evidence was collected and not secured,” Kenneally said Friday.

In the letter sent last week, Kenneally said, “Astonishingly, this is the second time my office has had to contend with this exact issue.”

I have done everything I can do. A lot of work has taken place.”

—  New Hebron Police Chief Juanita Gumble

In late 2015, former Hebron police Sgt. Ryszard T. Kopacz was convicted of taking three long guns from the department’s evidence locker.

He was fired from the department in 2014.

Kopacz, who was sentenced to four years in prison, was in charge of the evidence locker at the time he removed the guns, according to testimony from his trial.

When finding him guilty on the gun charges, McHenry County Judge Michael Feetterer said the Hebron Police Department’s leadership was “inept” when it came to managing the evidence locker from which Kopacz took the guns.

During his trial, testimony revealed that Hebron officials did not immediately notice the weapons were missing.

Former Assistant State’s Attorney Michael Combs said, “He knew no one would ever know because no one was checking.”

Kopacz’s defense was that he brought the guns home to clean them and intended to return them.

Kopacz’s attorney, Jeff Altman, declined to comment Friday.

“The unprecedented breach of security on not one but two occasions in recent history is unacceptable,” Kenneally said in his letter sent to the village last week. “If the Hebron Police Department is incapable of exercising minimal competence in areas as basic as securing an evidence vault, I would strongly suggest disbanding the police department and contracting with another municipality that can.”

Gumble found the Illinois State Police’s inquiry about two weeks ago as she was reorganizing the department and the evidence room.

Juanita Gumble, Chief of Police, Hebron Police Department, photographed outside the McHenry County Government Center on Thursday, March 2, 2023 in Woodstock. Ryan Rayburn for Shaw Local

The inquiry was emailed to previous police Chief Ramtin Sabet on Dec. 1. The Illinois State Police asked about cash forfeited as part of two cases, $246.98 in one case and $934.28 in another. Each case had been dismissed.

Sabet stepped in as interim chief Nov. 20 when Chief Richard Donlea went on medical leave. Sabet then was sworn in Dec. 27 and was chief until Gumble took over the post Jan. 30. Sabet left Hebron to take a job in Florida.

Attempts to reach Sabet on Friday were unsuccessful.

“We are hopeful that you can help with closing them out or by giving a status update ASAP,” Rhonda Horn with the Illinois State Police asset forfeiture section said in the email.

The letter was marked as high priority and asked for a response within 30 days.

Gumble searched for the cases and found the dollar amount attached to the 2011 case was added to the 2005 case file, she said. She did not find any sign of the cash or documentation indicating where it was.

The Illinois State Police conducted an inspection of the Hebron department Jan. 23 at the request of Sabet and documented observations of the department’s evidence collection and storage in a memorandum to him, according to Gumble and a copy of the memo.

It noted the evidence lockers were located in the garage, likely in view of the public, and not secured to the wall or ground.

The door to the Hebron Police Department, 12007 Prairie Ave. in Hebron, on Thursday, April 28, 2023. McHenry County State's Attorney Patrick Kenneally said in a letter that the village of Hebron Police Department's evidence room had not been maintained "in a sufficiently secure manner," leading potential chain-of-command questions that could impact cases prior to February.

The memo offered suggestions, including consolidating the processing station and supplies in one location so officers would not have to leave evidence to go into another area to gather supplies.

“Evidence should not be left unattended until properly sealed and submitted into a secure location,” Trooper Ark Wozniak said in the memo.

Wozniak called the lack of evidence inventory “tragic.”

He also recommended moving evidence lockers to a “more secure location and secur(ing) them to the wall and/or floor.”

Other recommendations included better organization, a tracking system to monitor who enters the vault, additional cameras, standardized padlocks and keys, implementing protocols to track exhibits in the submission lockers, and a policy for destruction of evidence.

“The proper handling of evidence and personal property needs to be high priority for law enforcement for both prosecutorial and accountability purposes,” Wozniak said in the memo. “Few administrative activities can negatively affect a department like the evidence vault.”

On Friday, Gumble said she has completed “almost everything” in Wozniak’s letter.

Guns have been “wrapped and tagged,” she said, and evidence has been placed in separated compartments.

Security cameras and double locks have been added. Evidence lockers were moved out of the previous room, which had a drop ceiling, and into a room with a concrete ceiling and steel door. Lockers also are now secured to the wall, and the evidence-processing station is next to the lockers, she said.

“I have done everything I can do,” Gumble said. “A lot of work has taken place.”

Gumble is the only person with a key to the evidence room and can view all the cameras from her office and on her phone “at anytime.” A digital video recorder also has been added to record inside and outside the department at all times, she said.

She also has added four part-time police officers, bringing her police staff to one full-time officer and five part-time officers.

The police staff had been reduced from five full-time officers and three part-time officers by Village President Robert Shelton after he was elected in 2021.

Shelton, who was charged last year with driving under the influence of alcohol and reckless driving, vowed during his campaign to reduce the cost of the police department. He said he wanted to reallocate funds to other village needs, such as road maintenance and beautifying the downtown area to attract more businesses.

With help from village trustees and village Treasurer Katherine Andrus, Gumble wrote a federal grant application securing working body cameras.

The cameras they previously had did not work, she said.

“The entire team has worked together in different aspects to rebuild,” Gumble said. “The Village Board has been great.”

Northwest Herald reporter Janelle Walker contributed to this report.