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Ex-detective took drugs for back pain

BY Carolyn Muyskens - cmuyskens@chronicle-tribune.com

Former Grant County Sheriff’s Department detective Shelby Taylor told Chief Deputy Tim Holtzleiter he took medication from the department’s evidence room to treat his chronic back pain, according to Holtzleiter’s sworn testimony in a hearing Wednesday morning.

Taylor is accused of stealing prescription painkillers from the evidence room on at least 19 separate occasions over three years. An Indiana State Police investigation resulted in charges of official misconduct, theft and possession of a controlled substance for the former lieutenant in October.

Holtzleiter was testifying in a hearing to decide whether statements Taylor made during the Sheriff’s Department’s internal investigation into the missing medication could be admitted as evidence in the upcoming jury trial.

The medication Taylor is accused of stealing was “mostly narcotics,” including an opioid pain medication called Tramadol, which Taylor had had prescriptions for in the past, according to Special Prosecutor John Meyers.

The missing medication was discovered in a routine “purge” of the evidence room in which detectives clean out evidence no longer needed for investigations or prosecutions. Taylor was in charge of the evidence room at the time and one of just three in the Sheriff’s Department who had access to the room.

On Aug. 6, Holtzleiter called Taylor into his office, the chief deputy said. Holtzleiter said he told Taylor “To be honest, I don’t even know how to start this conversation,” and explained he had reports of drugs missing from the evidence room.

Holtzleiter testified at that point Taylor interrupted him and said, “I can stop you here, I did it.”

A short time later, sitting in Sheriff Reggie Nevels’ office, Holtzleiter told Taylor anything he told them was “privileged” and wouldn’t be used against him in a criminal proceeding, including the conversation in Holtzleiter’s office.

That was the legal problem at issue during the Wednesday hearing. Taylor’s attorney, Bridget Foust, argued none of Taylor’s statements to Holtzleiter or Nevels on Aug. 6 could be used as evidence in court.

Holtzleiter had given Taylor a Garrity warning, which promises that any statements made will be used for internal administrative processes and not criminal proceedings.

The judge sided with the prosecutor, who argued everything before the Garrity warning was fair game for the trial. The prosecutor told the judge he did not object to keeping the conversation that came after the Garrity warning out of the trial.

In the subsequent conversation, according to Holtzleiter’s testimony, Taylor said told Holtzleiter and Nevels he didn’t have a substance abuse problem but was taking the narcotics for his chronic pain.

The Sheriff’s Department also chose to accept Taylor’s Aug. 7 resignation instead of bringing him before the Sheriff’s Merit Board and asking for his termination.

That choice means Taylor is able to collect a pension, as well as payment for unused vacation time.

“He had a spotless record to this point ... It’s impossible to say how valuable he was to the department,” Holtzleiter said, explaining the choice to allow Taylor to resign. Taylor was with the department 22 years.

“Any time someone owns their mistakes it’s a big plus, whether it’s a criminal investigation or an internal investigation,” Holtzleiter added.

Holtzleiter said he told Taylor his statements were privileged because he wanted to protect him.

“At the time I felt like it was the right thing to do. He was a friend,” Holtzleiter said.