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Knox County Deputy Fired, County Calls For Independent, Outside Investigation

By Echo Menges

Knox County Officials are bracing for impact after learning information was leaked to The Edina Sentinel last week alleging KCSO Deputy, Howard Smith, was caught allegedly selling evidence and stolen property from the Sheriff’s office on the online sales site, e-bay, by KCSO Deputy Chief Ryan Bishop.

It has also been learned by the Sentinel that Smith has been charged, but not convicted, with theft in the past.According to Adams County, Illinois court documents, on February 28, 1993, Smith was ticketed for Theft and plead Not Guilty to that charge. He was ordered by the court to serve three months probation and pay a fine of $137. The charge was dismissed after the probationary period and payment of the fine was completed.Another case of interest in the Adams County, Illinois court database shows Smith was charged, but not convicted, on September 18, 1998 with Contributing To The Delinquency Of A Minor, a Class A Misdemeanor, to which he plead Not Guilty. A Jury Trial was scheduled for February 1, 1999, but never happened because about a week prior to the trial the case was Nolle Prosequi, which is a term used by the courts after a request for dismissal is filed by the prosecutor of a case.

The following is a timeline and line of questioning posed to county officials and individuals who are directly impacted by the allegations leading to Smith’s dismissal.

On Tuesday, January 3, 2012 I asked Knox County Sheriff, Mike Kite, “Is it true Deputy Howard Smith was fired for (allegedly) stealing evidence and property from the Sheriff’s Office and (allegedly) selling it on e-bay?”

Sheriff Kite replied, “He’s been terminated, but that’s all I can say until after I talk to the prosecutor.”I asked Sheriff Kite, “Were you aware of (Smith’s) criminal record and that he had a theft charge and a contributing to the delinquency of a minor charge?”Sheriff Kite responded, “I wasn’t aware of any criminal record. Nothing like that came up in my background check when we hired him.”

The same day, Tuesday, Jan. 4, I spoke to the Assistant Knox County Prosecuting Attorney, Jo Fortney. I asked Assistant Prosecutor Fortney, “Do you know if there is an investigation into (Smith’s) dismissal?”

Assistant Prosecutor Fortney responded, “I advised (the Sheriff) to have an unbiased outside agency do an investigation if there is reason to believe something happened. If there were charges to be filed, the initial report would come to our office if it happened in Knox County and it would be my policy to send it to the Attorney General’s Office. That would be the same for any county employee.”

I asked Assistant Prosecutor Fortney, “What about the cases (Smith) investigated? Will they be dismissed since he’s been terminated?”Assistant Prosecutor Fortney responded, “It will depend on why he was terminated.”

I asked the Assistant Prosecutor, “Were you aware of (Smith’s) criminal history of being charged with theft and contributing to the delinquency of a minor?”

Assistant Prosecutor Fortney responded, “I became aware of some issues after he was employed, but they weren’t criminal in nature.”

The same day, Tuesday, Jan. 4, I spoke to Howard Smith on the phone. I told him what I was told by my sources and asked him if he would confirm or deny the allegations or go on record with a comment, which he declined. Finally, I asked him point blank, “Howie, did you steal from the Sheriff’s office and sell the stuff on e-bay?”Smith responded, “I don’t want to say anything until after I talk to Mike.”

The following day, Wednesday, January 5, I called Sheriff Kite and asked if there was an outside agency investigating the situation. The Sheriff responded, “I’ve reached out to an agency and I’m still waiting to hear back from them.”

On Friday, January 6, I spoke with a man who is in the process of fighting for his freedom, Ronald Howe, after his arraignment in Knox County Circuit Court. Howe is facing felony drug possession charges and Smith has been an integral part of the case against him. The Sentinel has been covering the Howe case since it began.Before the arraignment began, Howe asked me if I knew what was going on concerning Smith’s termination. I didn’t discuss the matter with him until after his arraignment was finished and we were outside of the courtroom. I asked Ronald Howe to comment for this story. He went on the record to say; if the allegations were true “I don’t see what makes him any different from anybody else. He should be arrested and prosecuted. What’s right is right.”

Ronald Howe’s defense attorney, Kevin Locke, took the time to answer a few questions concerning Smith’s termination after Howe’s arraignment.I asked Kevin Locke, “Are you going to push for a dismissal in the Howe case based on allegations that the lead investigator, Howard Smith, was terminated from the KCSO for (allegedly) stealing property and evidence from the Sheriff’s office?Kevin Locke responded, “The short answer to that question is yes.”

I asked Kevin Locke, “As the Public Defender for Knox County are there any other defendants you represent whose cases will be directly effected by the Smith allegations?Kevin Locke responded, “I’m not sure. I’ll have to go through my cases and try to figure that out.”I asked Kevin Locke, “What kind of damage could these theft allegations do to cases being investigated by the Sheriff’s office and prosecuted in Knox County?

Kevin Locke responded, “Potentially it would cast substantial doubt on any evidence (Smith) would have given during his time at the Sheriff’s office.”

Late Friday afternoon, January 6, a statement was released exclusively to The Edina Sentinel by the Knox County Commissioners, Prosecutor’s office and Sheriff’s office stating: “Howard Smith has been terminated from employment with the Knox County Sheriff’s Department. Immediately, upon the discovery of irregularities within the department, Mr. Smith was questioned and subsequently terminated. A request for investigation has been sent to the Missouri State Highway Patrol (MSHP) and Division of Drug and Crime Control (DDCC) has been assigned to investigate.Despite numerous allegations, the extents of the irregularities are unknown at this time, as upon the advice of the Knox County Prosecutors Office, all investigation will be left to DDCC.  Future inquiries regarding the investigation should be directed to the MSHP.”

The Edina Sentinel will follow this story as it continues to unfold.

Editor’s Note: Knox County officials have been cooperative with the Sentinel. In our opinion, they have taken the appropriate action by calling for an outside investigation, and now, they should wait for the outcome of that investigation.There probably will be fallout from this incident, but the judicial consequences would likely be the same, whether or not this story was printed, as the public defender already knew of the allegations.Knox County citizens have the right to know what allegedly happened, and how their county officials have responded. -mds