Wayne County Commissioner calls allegations about Sheriff Benny Napoleon "troubling"

DETROIT (WXYZ) - The Wayne County leader who's in charge of several audits being done on Sheriff Benny Napoleon's department is weighing in on a story the 7 Action News Investigators broke Monday night.

Text messages from Sheriff Benny Napoleon have legal experts questioning whether Napoleon may have abused his power.

The texts were just recently made public as part of a whistleblower lawsuit – and now the Chair of the Wayne County Commission's Audit Committee says he's concerned about the allegations 7 Action News exposed.

"Worse than troubling. Maybe the prosecutor should look at that. I would if I was prosecutor," said Commissioner Ray Basham (D-Taylor).

What did the Sheriff know and when did he know it?  That's the crucial question when it comes to a raid that Benny Napoleon's deputies executed on the home of a former Sheriff's department employee.

"It was 7 or 8 officers, they were bamming and kicking on the door," said Renee Newell last summer, as she explained how Wayne County Sheriff's Deputies burst into her home, terrifying her daughter, seizing her computers.

The raid was approved by a magistrate, but the Sheriff's own text messages raise questions about whether the request to approve the raid left out important facts.

The 7 Action News Investigators have the Sheriff's text messages.

At the time of the raid last July, Sheriff's officials told us -- they believed Newell authored an attachment on an email that falsely accused Napoleon's right hand man, Executive Chief Eric Smith, of being a felon.

"Did you send that email," asked 7 Action News Investigator Heather Catallo.

"No I did not," said Newell.

"What were they really looking for," asked Catallo.

"I believe that they were looking for any evidence that I might have to support my whistleblower case," said Newell.

At the time of the search, Newell's attorney was negotiating a settlement of her whistleblower claim.  The sides never settled – and Newell later sued the county -- claiming she was fired from her job as Director of Jail Compliance last year after she blew the whistle on alleged wrongdoing among some of Sheriff Napoleon's top executives.

Even though Sheriff's officials said under oath in a search warrant that Newell sent the malicious email -- the Wayne County Sheriff's Department's own internet crimes sergeant has now testified: "I don't know who authored it."  The sergeant also testified that one of the key statements in the search warrant that implicates Newell was "inaccurate."

Napoleon's text messages also raise a lot of questions.  Here's a timeline of what the Sheriff knew and when:

On July 20, 2012 - top ranking Wayne County Sheriff's officials start receiving the false email about Chief Smith, who's also a lawyer.

On July 23 – Sheriff Napoleon engages in a heated text exchange with a man Napoleon thinks is the person who actually sent the email.

Napoleon writes: "that malicious email u sent has been verified to be false by the justice department.  I have the letter from the justice dept. clearing atty. smith.  Facts never support falsehoods."

Yet three days later, on July 26, Napoleon does not stop the search of Renee Newell's home – even though he could have put the brakes on the raid.

"If you knew someone else sent that email why did you raid Renee Newell's home," asked Catallo.

"Well I didn't raid Renee Newell's home, the Sheriff's office did," Napoleon said.  "There's an investigation that is still pending, there were text messages and emails that implicated more than one person. There were several people involved in this."

But that doesn't add up either – especially since Sheriff's officials admit Newell's house was the only one searched.

"Did you abuse your power here," asked Catallo.

"Absolutely not!! Absolutely not! No, not at all," said Napoleon.

"And you're saying everything in that search warrant was truthful," asked Catallo.

"I – I did not review – I don't review search warrants, that's not my job," Napoleon said. "We've done everything within accordance with the law, and we stand by it."

Wayne State University law professor Peter Henning says if the search warrant for Newell's home was based on false or incomplete information – then the raid may have been illegal.

"If there's evidence of a lie, it shows the investigation was not just misguided or mistaken – it violated the constitution.  And it indeed could even be considered a crime," said Henning.

Wayne County Commission Audit Committee Chair Ray Basham says he's concerned about these allegations and says the county is currently conducting four major audits of Napoleon's department.

"Nothing surprises me – the Sheriff needs to do a better job, a lot better job of managing his dept," said Basham.

Sheriff's officials maintain they had probable cause to get the warrant to search Newell's home.

And, very late on Monday, Napoleon's second in command told 7 Action News, the Sheriff may have thought he was texting Newell. But Napoleon never suggested that in his own interview

with us three weeks ago.    

The county also insists Newell is suing because she is a disgruntled employee. As for her whistleblower lawsuit, it is ongoing--but a judge recently ordered that the county return all of Newell's computers.

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