Former deputy pleads guilty to ‘turfing.’

January 31, 2017


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Former deputy pleads guilty to ‘turfing.’

By Allison Scarbrough, Editor.

HART —Former Oceana County Sheriff’s Office deputy Wesley John Hanks, 52, pleaded guilty Tuesday, Jan. 31, 2017, in 78th District Court to a misdemeanor charge of malicious destruction of trees, shrubs, crops, grass, turf, soil less than $200 and was sentenced to $400 in fines and costs stemming from an incident last summer that involved him throwing fireworks from a truck that he was riding in as a passenger, causing damage to a residential yard.

Hanks, who was fired from his job with the sheriff’s office last September, was scheduled for a jury trial Tuesday. The trial never occurred, because he pleaded to the charge.

In exchange for his plea, one count of using a police radio while committing a misdemeanor was dismissed, said his attorney Douglas Gutscher, who specializes in representing Michigan police officers charged with criminal offenses through the Police Officers Association of Michigan in Redford. Hanks’ sentence also includes a provision that he may not have any contact with the victims in the case or be near their residence for the next year.

Hanks avoided a mandatory 93-day jail term with the dismissal of the police radio charge, Gutscher said.

Hanks, who had worked for the sheriff’s office for over 11 years, was fired by now-retired Sheriff Robert Farber Sept. 21, 2016, “because he was under criminal investigation and violated several department policies and procedures,” current Oceana County Sheriff Craig Mast told OCP today. The Oceana County Board of Commissioners agreed that Hanks’ termination was appropriate, Mast said.

Hanks, who was arrested by the Hart post of the Michigan State Police, was still employed as a sheriff’s deputy when he committed the crime, according to police reports.

The charges stem from an Aug. 3, 2016 incident on 34th Avenue in Golden Township in which Hanks was riding in a pickup truck with a then 18-year-old man. The driver was a person who rode along with Hanks while he was on duty as an a deputy, because he was interested in pursuing a career in law enforcement, the reports state.

Both Hanks and the driver said they were coyote hunting that night and wanted to play a prank on the victim. There are two versions of the story as far as who lit the firework, said Hanks’ attorney. Hanks threw the firework out of the truck because he didn’t want it to go off in the cab of the truck, he said.

The 18-year-old was granted immunity in exchange for a truthful statement about the incident, the attorney said.

Hanks had his police radio on him, because he is a Hart firefighter and always carries it with him, one of the police reports stated. “He always carries it with him,” the attorney said. “He wasn’t using it to evade anyone.”

According to one of the police reports, the firework was a mortar that created a 3-4 inch hole in the victims’ yard measuring 6 inches in diameter. It was a legal firework, one of the report states. The turf grass near the hole was destroyed by the explosion, the report states.

“(The victim) observed a large explosion in the front yard described to be taller than the house and after the explosion, she heard her house being showered with rocks and dirt.” The report states that “she was upset because the explosion could have broken windows in the house; damaged her car parked in the driveway; or set the house on fire.” She also stated that her son and their dog were in the front yard when it happened and could have been injured. No one was injured, although everyone sleeping in the house was awakened by the noise.

The police reports contain narratives of other bizarre incidents allegedly involving Hanks. One incident involved a “prank” played on a  superior sheriff’s officer last June when a 6-foot penis was spray-painted in the officer’s yard and fish spawn was placed under the seat of his police cruiser while parked at his residence. The officer told investigators he had locked his cruiser, but when he checked it the next morning, someone had unlocked it.

According to a witness statement in one of the reports, Hanks, while off-duty, wrote tickets for minors in possession (MIP) at a teenage party last April in Walkerville. The witness told investigators that Hanks was hiding in the woods wearing camouflage. As soon as beer was brought out, Hanks emerged from the woods “in camouflage with his police radio.” A marked police car was never observed.

No charges were filed in regard to those incidents.

Oceana County Prosecutor Joseph Bizon said he recused himself from the case due to a conflict of interest. The case was handed over to Newaygo County Prosecutor Robert Springstead.

According to one of the reports, Hanks stated, “This was nothing more than a friend pranking a friend, and he was caught in the middle.”

“He showed poor judgment,” said his attorney. “He should have done more afterwards. He panicked and didn’t handle it very well. It’s an embarrassment for everyone, including the department and the community.”

The homeowner chased down the truck that Hanks was riding in with the 18-year-old. According to the reports, he never identified himself to the homeowner during the confrontation. However, she could hear the police radio inside the truck.

DNR records show that Hanks has a 1986 conviction of carrying a loaded gun in a vehicle, one of the reports states.

Hanks is trying to get his job back through binding arbitration with the police officer’s union, the Police Officers Association of Michigan. A private proceeding is slated for April, Gutscher said, with a determination expected in June.

“We’re happy to have this come to a resolution and hope it brings relief to the victims for an unfortunate series of events,” said Mast.

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