ST. JOSEPH — A St. Joseph police sergeant is on unpaid leave as his fate is determined, after he pleaded no contest to a misdemeanor charge stemming from the officer’s investigation into a transaction gone awry between himself and the seller of a pair of AirPod wireless headphones that didn’t work.
On May 7, Sgt. Jason Yonker was charged with the unlawful use or disclosure of LEIN information, which is considered a 93-day misdemeanor. After being contacted by The Herald-Palladium, Berrien County Prosecutor Michael Sepic said in an email that Yonker subsequently pleaded no contest to the charge of public officer – willful neglect of duty, a misdemeanor that carries a six-month probation period.
According to a Michigan State Police report, a third-party investigation was started after the state was contacted by St. Joseph Department of Public Safety Director Steve Neubecker regarding a possible violation of LEIN rules by one of his officers.
LEIN, known as the Law Enforcement Information Network, is run through the state police.
“It can only be accessed to work criminal complaints and matters,” Neubecker said of LEIN. “It cannot be used for anything personal.”
On Feb. 28, Benton Harbor residents Margaret Adams and Alfreda Williams came to Neubecker’s office and told him that Yonker was harassing them by coming to their houses looking for their grandson, Dimitri Adams.
Through several interviews, state police concluded Yonker was conducting a possible fraud investigation into an alleged crime perpetrated against him.
In his interviews with state police investigators, Yonker alleged that Dimitri Adams of Benton Harbor sold him fake AirPod wireless headphones.
Yonker initially got in touch with Adams, whose age was not listed in the state police report, about the AirPods through Facebook Marketplace. Adams was asking for $200 for the item, as the AirPods usually sell for $250, the report stated. Yonker said it was around Christmas and all stores had sold out of the product.
On Dec. 19, 2019, while off duty, Yonker met Adams at a Subway restaurant in Benton Harbor and bought the AirPods.
By Yonker’s account, Adams handed him a shrink-wrapped box that Yonker opened for inspection.
According to Yonker, he asked Adams if they were real, which Adams said they were. When Yonker got home, he had difficulty getting the AirPods to connect to an iPhone, before realizing they were fake.
Yonker told investigators he went back to the seller’s Facebook profile and sent Adams a message stating that as a police officer, Yonker was going to get a warrant and arrest him if his money was not returned. Yonker said he did not receive a response from Adams.
The report stated Yonker went on Facebook and found Margaret Adams in an effort to get in touch with her grandson.
On Dec. 26, 2019, Yonker went to Margaret Adam’s residence and told her that Dimitri Adams needed to return the money, or Yonker would pursue criminal charges against Dimitri Adams.
Yonker did this while on duty, which was deemed an internal issue that remains under investigation.
About a week later, Yonker went back to the house asking if Adams had left the money. The report stated Margaret Adams told Yonker that he had not, and that she didn’t know what her grandson was going to do.
Yonker then contacted the Berrien County Prosecutor’s Office about the alleged fraud and was told by Assistant Prosecutor Nick DeRyke that if the seller knowingly sold Yonker fake AirPods, it would be larceny by conversion.
Yonker next met with a sergeant with the Benton Harbor Department of Public Safety, where he was told it was a civil matter and that they would not investigate the matter. As of Wednesday, Neubecker said there is still no open investigation surrounding Adams, and what Yonker believed was a crime.
On Feb. 2 at 2:18 p.m., Yonker ran Dimitri Adams’ name through the LEIN system and discovered he was living with his aunt, Alfreda Williams, in Benton Harbor. Yonker went to the house in an effort to contact Adams.
Yonker told investigators that Williams said Adams wasn’t there and that she never sees him.
According to the state police investigation, it was these efforts by Yonker that prompted Alfreda Williams and Margaret Adams to reach out to Neubecker’s office to complain about the sergeant.
Yonker told state investigators it was his intention to put together an investigation and turn it over to Benton Harbor police. According to the police report, Yonker said he did not pull a complaint number from his department, but thought he would do all the legwork and request Benton Harbor police seek a warrant for criminal prosecution.
In an in-person interview with The Herald-Palladium, Neubecker said Yonker was placed on unpaid leave on May 5.
Neubecker said a public announcement was going to be made after the department’s internal investigation was concluded.
“It’s extremely serious. He’s been on unpaid suspension for a long time,” Neubecker said. “We’re going to be making a decision here shortly.”
The conviction in this deferral section enters on his record as a conviction, but will come off Yonker’s record if he successfully completes his probation. Neubecker said Yonker’s probation includes 40 hours of community service and paying fines and costs.
Since the incident, Neubecker said he has met with every shift and reiterated the LEIN policies and rules.
“He’s been a phenomenal officer for 23 years,” Neubecker said. “He’s had no disciplines prior to this. This is outside of his character. But as you can tell, he made some poor decisions and ended up in the situation he’s in.”
The Herald-Palladium did not have contact information for either Yonker or Adams, to seek comment.