Perhaps an alternative story title could be “I’ll cover your ass, you cover mine”.

Lengthy investigation into missing squad car focused on sheriff’s office employee

By John Myers on May 14, 2016 at 9:00 p.m.

t5.14.16 Bob King -- kingSTOLENSQUAD0515c -- The St. Louis County Sheriff's office is located in the Public Safetly Building. Bob King / rking@duluthnews.com

t5.14.16 Bob King — 

The St. Louis County Sheriff’s Office is located in the Public Safety Building in Duluth. Bob King / rking@duluthnews.com
No criminal charges filed in case stemming from May 2015 incident

When a locked St. Louis County Sheriff’s Office squad car was reported stolen in broad daylight in Superior one year ago, Sheriff Ross Litman called it a “brazen” act by a criminal intentionally trying to steal a police vehicle.
After months of investigation, however, state and local law enforcement officers concluded that the car was taken by one of the sheriff’s own employees.
Scott Camps, then St. Louis County’s emergency services manager and a top official in the sheriff’s office, allegedly took the car from a University of Wisconsin-Superior parking lot, drove it to Duluth and then abandoned it near the antenna farm, according to documents released to the News Tribune after a 10-month criminal investigation.

Investigators also linked the squad car incident with a pattern of harassment experienced by Camps’ immediate supervisor in the sheriff’s office, then-Supervising Deputy Steve Steblay.

Despite the investigation, however, prosecutors have decided not to file charges against Camps. The case officially remains unsolved. And Camps, who was paid for 10 months while on administrative leave and not working, retired May 4 — exactly one year after the squad was taken — as the sheriff’s office conducted an internal investigation of his actions. No disciplinary action has been taken against him.

Camps, who has denied involvement in the incident since he was first interviewed by investigators July 2, was not authorized to use the vehicle and had no permission or reason to be involved with it. But the investigation by officers for the sheriff’s office and Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension concluded Camps was the likely culprit. Camps was the only suspect seriously considered, according to a News Tribune review of hundreds of pages of documents in the criminal investigation case file.

Camps declined to comment for this story. But his Duluth attorney, Andrew Poole, released a written statement saying that “Mr. Camps has done nothing wrong, is not charged with a crime, and has retired from the St. Louis County Sheriff’s Office.”

Investigators surmised that Camps likely took the car to make his boss, Steblay, look bad, though the documents provide no additional details on an alleged motive. They alleged that Camps used a false name and email address to send derogatory messages to county officials attacking Steblay’s credibility.

The criminal investigation was forwarded to prosecutors on March 8.

No criminal charges

After spending several weeks poring over hundreds of pages of evidence, St. Louis County Attorney’s Office criminal division head Gary Bjorklund said the case failed to pass the basic litmus test to go to trial: Would it result in a conviction?

“I went over it, it took some time, and I talked with investigators from both the sheriff’s office and the BCA and … bottom line is that there was just not enough evidence to prove the criminal charge,” Bjorklund told the News Tribune.

The decision not to prosecute was made April 4, Bjorklund said.

Despite search warrants for Camps’ house, his computers from work and home, his cellphones, iPad and notebook computer as well as cellphone tower data and video from surveillance cameras near the scenes where the squad was taken and found, investigators turned up no concrete evidence showing Camps took the car.

Investigators swabbed for DNA evidence and found none of Camps’ DNA in the car. They found no one who witnessed the squad being taken, no one who saw it being abandoned at the antenna farm and no cameras that captured the squad at either point or on roads in between.

Criminal investigative files must by state law be made public at the point when a decision not to charge has been made; when the statute of limitations has expired; or when a person who has been charged and convicted has exhausted all appeals. The News Tribune received the hundreds of pages of documents from the BCA investigation on Wednesday.

Off the force

While prosecutors decided not to charge Camps, a 22-year veteran of the department, he left the force May 4 — his 51st birthday. Camps’ attorney said his client retired. Litman has refused to say if Camps was discharged or resigned, citing state data privacy laws.

Camps’ departure came 10 months after he was relieved of his duties, handed over his gun and was placed on paid administrative leave on July 2, 2015, amid the investigation into the taking of the squad car. That same day, state and local investigators searched his house and vehicles.

In a transcribed recorded interview with BCA agents, Camps denied involvement with the stolen squad car, even after agents told him they thought he was not being truthful.

“I had nuthin’ to do with the car, I can tell you that,” Camps told the agents before declining to answer additional questions until he talked with a lawyer.

Litman, offering only what he said was required of him to release under the state data practices law, has repeatedly declined to elaborate on the case. As required by state law, Litman confirmed to the News Tribune that an internal investigation was held after a complaint against Camps.

Documents contained in the criminal investigative file showed Camps was paid his salary while on administrative leave.

Litman said his office’s internal investigation had remained on hold during the criminal investigation and began only on April 4, when Bjorklund told investigators he was declining to prosecute the case. The investigation apparently ended when Camps retired.

The News Tribune also confirmed the situation through other sources, including county employees and law enforcement officers, some of whom expressed concerns over the past year that not enough information about the situation was being made public. An employee in Camps’ office said staff was never told why he left, only that he was not to be allowed back into the office. Others were concerned that the criminal investigation took so long to develop and that, ultimately, no one was held responsible.

Litman did not respond to requests to comment on the outcome of the case or the length of the investigation.

Squad gone without a trace

According to law enforcement officials and documents in the case, Steblay drove an unmarked 2013 Chevrolet Impala squad car with Minnesota license plates to the UWS campus on May 4, 2015. Steblay taught a law enforcement course at UWS as well as at the University of Minnesota Duluth.

According to UWS campus police reports, Steblay — who has since retired from the sheriff’s office — parked the vehicle at about 4:15 p.m. in the UWS student union parking lot and returned at 7:15 to find it gone. He immediately reported it stolen to the UWS campus safety office. Campus police filed a report into the national database of stolen vehicles.

The car was recovered at noon on May 6, 2015, in Duluth’s Observation Hill neighborhood near the antenna farm after an antenna maintenance worker reported it.

The vehicle was retrieved by the St. Louis County Sheriff’s Office, according to the Duluth Police Department, which was not involved in the investigation. Superior police did assist in trying to track down evidence from cameras in the area. Neither city police department has any reports on the case.

Litman said at the time of the incident that it appeared nothing had been stolen from the vehicle. The case baffled officers, who also noted there was no sign of forced entry into the vehicle.

“We have no idea” what happened, Gary Gulbrandson, UWS director of campus safety and parking services, told the News Tribune. “There was no glass on the ground; no evidence outside.”

Gulbrandson said his department reached out, asking for people to come forward with information. No cameras on campus recorded the incident.

“Nobody saw anything that we know of,” he said.

The investigation found that the squad’s radio was turned off 23 seconds after the car was started, indicating the person who took the squad was someone who knew that a live radio could be used to track the vehicle.

Litman initially asked for the public’s help to find the vehicle and catch the suspect. But then the case faded from the limelight after the vehicle was recovered.

“I’ve been doing this (serving as sheriff) for 12 years and it’s the first motor vehicle assigned to this office we’ve had stolen. It’s rare and it’s very brazen for somebody to do this,’’ Litman said one year ago.

“I can see if it were nighttime, intending to steal a vehicle and breaking into it — ‘Oops, this is a law enforcement car,’ ” Litman said one year ago. “But in broad daylight, one can easily look in. It makes one wonder if their intent was to steal” a squad car.

Squad found, only personal items taken

When the car was recovered the license plates had been removed but the vehicle was not damaged and Steblay’s service shotgun remained in the trunk. Some of Steblay’s personal mail, and a teaching contract with UMD, was missing from the seat, the investigators’ reports noted.

Sheriff’s office and BCA investigators chased down leads, and evidence almost immediately pointed to an inside job.

There were at least four keys to the vehicle unaccounted for inside the sheriff’s office. And investigators concluded that the culprit likely had one of those keys because that model of Chevy squad car would have been nearly impossible to hotwire.

The fact the radio was turned off was another fact of particular interest to investigators.

“Sgt. (Wade) Rasch (a sheriff’s office investigator) believes the fact the radio system was shut off so quickly after the car was started is an indication that someone familiar with the radio system was operating the vehicle,” an affidavit in the criminal investigation file notes. “Scott Camps has specific knowledge of the county radio system … and would have knowledge of how to turn off the radio system after a vehicle has been started.”

Campaign of harassment

Steblay told investigators of several incidents that, combined, appeared to show a more-than-year-long campaign of harassment before the squad was stolen, including having the brake lines on his personal vehicle tampered with, his cellphone stolen from inside a secure area of his office and his personal laptop stolen out of his personal vehicle while it was parked at UWS.

On the day the squad car was taken, Steblay attempted to use his personal Jeep Cherokee to drive from the sheriff’s office in Duluth to UWS to teach his class. But the Jeep’s ignition had been tampered with and he was unable to start it. So he took the squad car.

According to investigators’ reports, in another incident, someone sprayed lacquer or clear paint on the Jeep’s windshield while it was parked at UWS.

Investigators concluded that whoever was harassing Steblay also knew precisely when he left the sheriff’s office and when his classes were, and took photographs of Steblay’s squad parked at UMD.

It wasn’t until after the squad was taken, Steblay told investigators, that he began to consider that all of the incidents might be related.

Investigators using search warrants and combing computer and phone records also determined that it was someone inside the sheriff’s office who had been sending derogatory emails about Steblay to county commissioners, the sheriff, to county staff and even local media.

The emails focused on Steblay’s use of a county squad car to drive from his Mountain Iron home to the Duluth sheriff’s office daily and his use of the squad to drive to UMD and UWS to teach. County officials responded that Steblay was breaking no rules by doing so, although Steblay eventually began using his own Jeep to drive to his classes.

Investigators traced the emails, which were sent under the false name of Lloyd Johnsen, to a Gmail account that had been used both inside the sheriff’s office and inside Camps’ Duluth home.

“The accessing of the Gmail account from an IP address subscribed to the home of Scott Camps, with additional access to the Gmail account coming from IP addresses associated with St. Louis County and the St. Louis County Sheriff’s Office, make it highly probable that Scott Camps is the person who is fixated on Steve Steblay and his use of the county vehicle,” BCA agent Jerome Koneczny wrote in an affidavit for a search warrant filed on July 1, 2015.

The emails from the fictitious person also complained that Steblay turned in inaccurate timecards and offered specific examples. Investigators concluded that the only person who could have seen those timecards was Camps.

“There are only two individuals under the communications/911 division that have access to the Sheriff’s Office timesheet programs. … They would be Steve Steblay and Scott Camps,” said Rasch, an investigator for the sheriff’s office, in an initial report on the case.

Reached by e-mail, Steblay, 65, declined to comment on the lack of any prosecution in the case.

“I am aware that the investigation in regard to my stolen squad car is now over. I am also aware that criminal charges in this case will not be filed,” Steblay said. “I have recently retired from the St Louis County Sheriff’s Office and have turned the page and moved on. There is nothing further for me to add or discuss (regarding) this unfortunate incident.”

No past complaints

Camps had been an employee of the sheriff’s office since July 11, 1994, and was making $35.36 per hour at the time of his retirement, or about $73,548 per year. Camps had held several positions with the sheriff’s office, including emergency communications specialist, deputy sheriff-corrections officer, deputy sheriff and most recently was listed as the agency’s emergency services manager

According to Litman, the complaint against Camps for which he was recently under internal investigation was the only one in his personnel file.

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