Kentwood police chief resigns over tampering case

Kentwood Police Chief Gregory Newton resigned Tuesday after pleading guilty to tampering with about $2,000 that disappeared from evidence in a 2012 burglary case, the state Attorney General’s Office said.

Newton pleaded guilty to one felony count of malfeasance in office and Judge Ray Chutz, of the 21st Judicial District in Tangipahoa Parish, sentenced Newton to a five-year suspended sentence with five years of probation, the Attorney General’s Office said. Newton also was fined $2,500 plus court costs.

Newton’s plea agreement required him to resign immediately as police chief, the Attorney General’s Office said. He has paid full restitution to the victim.

The incident began when $11,000 was stolen from a home in Kentwood during a burglary in April 2012. Authorities in Pike County, Miss., recovered the money from two juveniles accused of stealing it, the Attorney General’s Office has said.

The Mississippi authorities turned the money over to the Kentwood Police Department after Newton and another officer drove to Pike County to collect it.

When the money was returned to the victim, about $2,000 was missing.

Louisiana State Police began investigating the case in December 2012 after the victim reported the missing cash.

Investigators concluded Newton intentionally tampered with the evidence, the State Police have said.

Details were unavailable Tuesday about what exactly Newton did with the $2,000, according to an Attorney General’s Office spokeswoman.

Troopers arrested Newton in January 2013 and booked him on counts of malfeasance in office and obstruction of justice.

A Tangipahoa Parish grand jury indicted Newton in September on those charges and he initially pleaded not guilty later that month. He later agreed to plead guilty to tampering with the cash, the Attorney General’s Office said.

The Attorney General’s Office prosecuted the case after Scott Perrilloux, the 21st Judicial District attorney, recused his office from the case.

Newton, a Democrat, was elected to his first and only term as police chief in 2010 after winning a run-off against Wayne Stewart, another Democrat.

He would have been up for re-election later this year.

Kentwood Mayor Harold Smith expressed dismay over the saga, but said he was glad it was ending so the town could move forward.

“We recognize the fact that there’s been a cloud over the town, and now we hope to remove it and move forward to provide better services for our people,” Smith said.

Smith said he had not had a chance yet to speak to the Kentwood Town Council about finding an interim chief to fill the rest of Newton’s term.

“Hopefully within the near future, as expeditiously as we can, (we will) be able to come together and recommend a replacement for police chief,” Smith said.

Smith said the town’s legal advisers told him that the interim chief will fill the term until the regular election, which will take place later this year, likely in November.