Investigation finds probable cause that three Ralls 911 center employees concealed shooting incident, destroyed evidence

Laurie Means
Posted: Nov. 2, 2013 8:39 pm Updated: Nov. 23, 2013 9:15 pm

Herald-Whig Staff Writer

NEW LONDON, Mo. -- An investigation into a report of a firearm being discharged inside the Ralls County 911 Center 18 months ago found probable cause that three employees were involved in concealing the incident and destroying evidence.

Named in probable cause statements dated Aug. 25 were former 911 Center Director Laurie Means, and former center employees Jared LaForce and Steven McClain.

Ralls County Deputy Sheriff Richard Adair wrote in an affidavit filed July 2 and obtained by The Herald-Whig through a Missouri Sunshine Law request that the investigation found "Jared LaForce and or Steve McClain had discharged a firearm inside the 911 center ... That they contacted the Director Laurie Means who assisted them in concealing the incident and destroying physical evidence of the incident."

When co-workers discovered the incident and tried to report it to Means, LaForce "discouraged and threatened co-workers from reporting the incident," the affidavit said.

Means and LaForce "then further concealed the incident and destroyed physical evidence of the incident by removing the video recording of the incident from the 911 center's recording system. When the co-worker persisted in reporting the illegal conduct to the 911 board, Director Laurie Means removed the witness/co-worker from her employment at the 911 center."

The investigation was turned over in August to a special prosecutor. Ralls County Associate Circuit Judge David Mobley appointed Monroe County Prosecuting Attorney Talley Kendrick to oversee the investigation. Kendrick could not be reached for comment on whether charges will be filed.

Means, who did not make herself available to be interviewed by Adair, resigned June 17 during a meeting of the Ralls County Emergency Services Board. Marion County has since been handling all 911 calls to Ralls County. The Ralls County Board decided July 15 to stop operations at the center and laid off the remaining staff.

Ralls County voters will cast ballots Tuesday on a proposed half-cent sales tax increase that would, if approved, enable the 911 board to hire a new director and staff, and reopen the center.

Adair was assigned in May to investigate "possible criminal activity" in the 911 building, including a report that LaForce warned his brother of impending arrest on one occasion and had brought firearms "on numerous occasions" inside the center's dispatch area. The investigation centered on a report that a firearm discharged and struck a mirror on a wall inside the building.

In a May 31 interview, McClain denied any knowledge of being present with LaForce when a firearm was discharged inside the 911 center. However, he acknowledged that LaForce had brought firearms into the center and had used them to shoot a skunk on the property.

In a June 3 interview, LaForce also denied any knowledge of the incident, the affidavit said.

Adair's June 9 interview of former center employee Janis Caldwell described what she saw during a review of the surveillance system video from April 11, 2012.

She said LaForce and McClain were working together at 4:50 a.m. when she saw the mirror suddenly broken and LaForce and McClain looking at it. Caldwell said Means also looked at the mirror, which was then removed from the wall. Caldwell said she saw Means carry the mirror outside to a dumpster and return with only the frame, which she placed into her vehicle. Caldwell said she saw LaForce use a wet dry vacuum to clean the hallway under the mirror and Means leave the property for a period of time, returning with what she believes was drywall spackle. The cleanup and repair was done by the time the next dispatchers arrived at 6 a.m., Caldwell said.

In his investigation, Adair said he found a small circular area in the center where drywall was repaired and painted, which "appears to be consistent with a bullet or projectile striking the wall" and being repaired, the affidavit said.

Caldwell said LaForce was seen carrying a black bag into the building at the start of his shift that day and out of the building at the end of his shift. She said LaForce had used the same bag on previous occasions to carry firearms into the center.

Caldwell reported the matter to two Ralls County 911 Emergency Service Board members, and "as a direct result of bringing the matter to the Ralls County 911 Board she was not scheduled for working hours and was unofficially fired," the affidavit said.

The board placed LaForce on administrative leave and voted to refer the matter to the Missouri State Highway Patrol. Two days later, the board was told LaForce had resigned. The incident was not officially investigated, the affidavit said, and Caldwell discovered that the video had been deleted from the system. Subsequent interviews by Adair confirmed details of Caldwell's report.

In August, Ralls County Sheriff Gerry Dinwiddie said the incident was part of an ongoing investigation. In a second news release issued by his office, Dinwiddie said deputies had been conducting "a criminal investigation" at the center, with a search warrant authorized and executed on July 2 at the center.

"Various items of evidence were recovered pertaining to this case," the release said.

The report states that four felonies statutes were violated -- unlawful use of a weapon, tampering with physical evidence, concealing a felony and hindering the prosecution of a felony. It also listed misdemeanor unlawful use of a weapon and misuse of official information as other violations.

Adair said his investigation revealed that LaForce on at least two unrelated occasions released "highly sensitive law enforcement information" to relatives that interfered with police operations, including an investigation into the distribution of controlled drugs, and jeopardized the safety of law enforcement officers.