Crime & Courts

Judge: Thank-you cards for arrest are relevant

WOODSTOCK – A woman’s thank-you cards to officers who arrested her fiance on drug charges, including to a detective with whom she allegedly had a sexual relationship, are relevant to the case, a judge ruled Thursday.

McHenry County Judge Sharon Prather turned over copies of the cards to Hal Stinespring, the attorney for Christopher L. Branham.

Prather also ordered statements from now-deputy Jason Novak be turned over, but said that any other materials that were part of a McHenry County Sheriff’s Office internal investigation are irrelevant.

Branham, 43, of Crystal Lake, was arrested in April 2011 and charged with multiple felony drug counts.

According to court documents, his fiance had contacted police about drugs in the home they shared. She was put into contact with then-detective Novak of the narcotics division.

On a day when Branham wasn’t home, the woman gave officers permission to search the home, and they allegedly found drugs including morphine, Oxycontin and methadone.

Branham was arrested the next day. As his fiance tried to raise his bail money, she was contacted by Novak, whom she had begun calling “Slick.”

She eventually went to Novak’s home and performed a sex act on him, court documents show.

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

But Stinespring said he has concerns over whether Novak was abusing his power as an officer and the effect his position had on the woman – and the case.

When you have someone in a position of power, it changes they way people respond, Stinespring said.

“Could he have asked her to do certain things? Could he have asked her to manipulate the evidence? The cards, did he ask her to do that because he knew this could backfire?” Stinespring said. “Everything gets destroyed based on this relationship. You don’t know what’s real anymore.”

Combs said the sheriff’s office did nothing wrong in its investigation, and he feels confident he can prove
that at an evidentiary hearing.

“My position is that [the notes] rebut any claim of impropriety by members of the department,” Combs said. “If she’s thanking them for their work, then that proves that the sheriff’s department’s investigation was on the level.”

Sheriff Keith Nygren previously said Novak, who was hired in 2007, was demoted from detective to patrol and was suspended for 10 days without pay.

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