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An Oregon police officer who died unexpectedly in January was stealing drugs from the department’s evidence room and prescription drug disposal box, an internal investigation has found.

Lt. Karey Clark, 38, died Jan. 9. The sudden death of a seemingly healthy and well-respected officer shocked the local law enforcement community, prompting village offices to close and McFarland to offer Oregon policing services during the funeral.

But following his death, Oregon police employees noticed “variances” in the department’s evidence room and a MedDrop box on site. They also found suspicious pills in Clark’s office prompting an internal investigation, Oregon village officials said in a statement Tuesday following completion of a Wisconsin Department of Justice investigation.

Clark joined the department in 2001 and served as a detective and detective sergeant before being promoted to lieutenant in 2011. As lieutenant, Clark had “almost exclusive” access to the evidence room and prescription drug disposal box, according to the statement. The investigation found that Clark removed certain types of drugs from both facilities.

“Without itemizing, they were drugs from the opiate family. There were pills, there were powders, so I can’t give you a number. It was substantial,” said Oregon’s interim Police Chief Dale Burke.

Barry Irmen, director of operations for the Dane County Medical Examiner’s Office, would not release the cause of Clark’s death, saying that is not a public record.

But Irmen said the manner of death was “accidental.”

Prior to his death, Clark and former Police Chief Doug Pettit were the only department employees with access to the evidence room, Burke said.

Pettit announced his retirement in August amid accusations that he withheld information about the volume of police calls to a sports and entertainment venue, Union Sports Club, where he and some of his officers routinely performed off-duty security work. He was later accused of tax evasion related to income earned at the venue.

Burke, who retired in 2010 from the UW-Madison Police Department, was hired on a temporary basis to see the Oregon department though the crisis.

Pettit had been on medical leave for a cancer diagnosis since May and the disruption led to many of the security lapses that gave Clark unfettered access to the evidence room and MedDrop box.

For example, MedDrop boxes are fitted with a two-key system intended to require multiple officers to be present when the box is emptied. After Pettit’s departure, Burke asked Clark to give the second key to another officer whom Burke specified, but it was discovered after Clark’s death that both keys were with him, Burke said.

“From September until the time of his passing, I was under the impression that we had a two-person system. I trusted him,” Burke said.

No other police department employees were implicated in the internal investigation’s findings.

Oregon police have already implemented security changes in response to the findings.

Under the new procedures, only two department employees are authorized to access the evidence room and MedDrop box and no employee is allowed to do so alone.

Employees must also sign in and out whenever the evidence room is entered or exited to ensure better record keeping.

The department will also perform an inventory of the evidence room and a private contractor will audit those results, Burke said.

Dane County’s MedDrop program is coordinated by the public safety organization Safe Communities Madison-Dane County. Cheryl Wittke, executive director, said that in order for a police department to receive a MedDrop box it must sign a memorandum of understanding that outlines procedures for emptying the boxes.

“We rely on police departments and their chains of command to enforce those procedures. Clearly there were other things breaking down at this department,” Wittke said. “There’s people dealing with addiction in all sorts of responsibilities. That’s why we have these checks in place.”

Since 2012, Safe Communities has collected nearly 18 tons of unused medications through its MedDrop program.

Published by madison.com