Crime & Courts

Drug defense cites McHenry County detective’s romance

WOODSTOCK – A man facing multiple felony drug charges wants evidence thrown out because the informant in the case – the man’s fiancée – allegedly had a sexual relationship with a detective.

According to court documents, in early March 2011, the woman contacted the McHenry County Sheriff’s Office about drugs allegedly found in the home she shared with Christopher L. Branham, 43, at 1795 Thomasville Lane in Crystal Lake.

She was put in contact with then-Detective Jason Novak of the narcotics division, who reportedly told her that if she arranged it so that the items could be confiscated, no charges would be filed.

After a meeting March 15, 2011, Novak allegedly continued to contact the woman, who was referred to in court documents as “Fiance.”

“Novak persisted in his interaction with Fiance, much of which became personal and not relevant to the issue of potential contraband in Branham’s home,” Branham’s attorney, Hal Stinespring, said in the documents. “Some of Novak’s contact with Fiance was sexual in nature and relayed over phone calls or text messages on his department-issued cellphone.”

The woman allowed Novak to take the drug materials, understanding that no charges would be filed and that her role as an informant would not be revealed to Branham.

On April 28, 2011, members of the Narcotics Task Force, including Novak, went to the home that the woman and Branham shared. Branham was gone for the day and the woman signed a permission-to-search form.

Novak interrogated her about who owned items found in the search and during the course of the interaction, the woman began calling Novak “Slick,” which Novak “happily answered to,” Stinespring said.

Police have said they found multiple drugs, including morphine, Oxycontin and methadone in the home.

Branham was arrested the next day. As his fiancée tried to raise bail money, Novak called to “check on her,” Stinespring said.

While she waited outside the jail for Branham to be released, Novak texted her, which set off a conversation of nearly 50 texts that became increasingly sexual, he said.

She then called Novak’s department-issued phone and he spoke frankly of intending to commit sexual acts with her, and said they had to be careful because it could “cause him trouble,” Stinespring said.

During the early morning hours of April 30, she allegedly went to Novak’s house, which is in McHenry County, wearing a blue dress.

“Slick further told Fiance that they needed to have an ‘agreement’ that Slick and Fiance could merely have a sexual relationship and that she not tell anybody as Slick could lose his job,” Stinespring said.

She reportedly asked how often he attempted to have a sexual relationship with a witness from one of his cases and he answered that it was his first. She then performed a sex act on him. Evidence of the interaction remains on her dress, Stinespring said.

Arguments were heard in court Thursday regarding Stinespring’s subpoenas of documents related to a sheriff’s office internal investigation of Novak.

Assistant State’s Attorney Michael Combs, who also is chief of the Criminal Division, argued the sheriff’s office shouldn’t have to turn over the documents, saying Novak’s file is confidential.

“The defense has not shown how the subpoenaed materials are material to the defense,” Combs said in court documents. “This is a fishing expedition and the defense is seeking information in the detective’s personnel file.”

McHenry County Judge Sharon Prather ruled that the material would be turned over to her to determine whether it is relevant.

Stinespring’s other motion asks that much of the evidence collected, including the drugs reportedly seized at Branham’s house, not be allowed in court because of the “illegal entry.”

“By virtue of the facts ... the arresting agency deceived Fiance as to their purpose for entry, in violation of the United States Constitution,” Stinespring said.

Branham’s next scheduled court date is Oct. 18.

Sheriff Keith Nygren said Novak, who was hired in 2007, was demoted from detective and is back in the patrol unit. Novak also was suspended for 10 days without pay.

The department holds officers to a higher standard, Nygren said, and Novak’s actions were a violation of the department’s rules and regulations.

“We will deal with transgressions when they come to our attention, and I think we always have,” Nygren said. “It would have been easy for us to cut the guy some slack, but we didn’t do that here.”

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