Civil Asset Forfeiture

Mississippi Police Chief Kills Self Amid Federal Asset Forfeiture Investigation (UPDATED)

Justice Dept. was trying to track down $300,000 missing from fund


Bay St. Louis
Frank Kovalchek / CC

Mike De Nardo, the police chief for Bay St. Louis, Mississippi, apparently turned his gun on himself and committed suicide Thursday, not long after being relieved of his duties over an outside investigation.

According to the Sun Herald, De Nardo was being escorted from the police station by a pair of Hancock County deputies. Witnesses said a commotion broke out in the parking lot, and De Nardo shot himself. He was apparently alive and even conscious while heading to a hospital, where he died.

Mayor Les Fillingame is being deliberately vague about the nature of the investigation that led to De Nardo's suspension. In an interview, Fillingame said the chief was "reeling" from the recent death of his mother along with this investigation. Fillingame said the sheriff's department had uncovered evidence about "something that happened outside the city that involved Mike De Nardo." Fillingame didn't get any more detailed than that, but did say that he believed that De Nardo could clear up whatever the issue was and pointed out that De Nardo had not actually been charged or indicted.

But De Nardo and the city of Bay St. Louis had drawn the attention of the Department of Justice. In reporting from last fall, the Sun Herald noted that both the mayor and the chief signed certified affidavits that the city was in possession of nearly $300,000 in money given to them through the Department of Justice's asset forfeiture Equitable Sharing program. That's the program that allows local law enforcement agencies to partner with the Justice Department in drug raids and other police activities, seize any cash and assets they get, and keep a good chunk of it for themselves.

The problem was that nobody could find the money. According to the Sun Herald's reporting, the money was not kept in a separate account as it was supposed to be, and it remains unclear where that money was spent. The Justice Department apparently wanted either documentation or the money back and sent them a report mandating corrections to their forfeiture program.

None of the reporting specifically states that the investigation into De Nardo was directly connected to the forfeiture auditing, but the mayor did make it clear the suspension was connected to some sort of investigation from an outside agency.

UPDATE: According to the Associated Press, De Nardo was being investigated for illegally selling city-owned firearms.