Now that a former McHenry police officer has pleaded guilty to stealing drug money from the department’s evidence locker, the results of an independent audit of the locker should be unsealed.
Dale A. Hojnacki faces up to five years in prison after pleading guilty Tuesday to theft and official misconduct. He is to be sentenced March 8. He was charged after a routine audit of the evidence locker revealed missing money.
Shortly after the charges were filed, the city of McHenry hired an independent agency to conduct a more thorough audit of the police department’s evidence and property control system.
After the audit, we learned that eight pending criminal cases might be affected by Hojnacki’s alleged interference with evidence.
Separately, the McHenry County State’s Attorney’s Office sent a letter to the then-president of the McHenry County Bar Association, notifying her of potential evidentiary problems related to all McHenry Police Department arrests, including drug cases. The letter said that authorities had reason to believe Hojnacki opened sealed evidence bags and removed narcotics.
At the request of Hojnacki’s defense attorneys, now-retired Judge Joseph Condon issued a gag order on all parties to the case. Condon also denied the Northwest Herald’s request under the Freedom of Information Act for a copy of the independent audit report.
In sealing the audit, Condon essentially said that its public release could hinder Hojnacki’s right to a fair trial. Now that Hojnacki has pleaded guilty, there is no reason to keep the report sealed.
We asked again for a copy of it on Tuesday but were denied by Judge Sharon Prather, who is presiding after Condon’s retirement. She said she would reconsider after the sentencing hearing.
Too often in McHenry County, it seems to us, judges are quick to seal information from the public eye, even if there’s a compelling public interest in the information.
Taxpayers paid for the audit, and pay the salaries of the police department. They have a right to know the details of this audit. With Hojnacki’s guilty plea, there’s no good reason to continue hiding it.
Let the public see the audit.