A Buffalo police officer who had been on the job for less than two years took money from a woman’s wallet that had been turned over to him to return, a judge has ruled.
Officer Michael R. Missana, 42, was found guilty of petit larceny and official misconduct, both Class A misdemeanors, State Supreme Court Justice Penny M. Wolfgang said in delivering her decision Thursday morning.
In doing so, she discounted defense suggestions that there either had never been any money in the wallet or that someone else stole it in the few minutes between when the officer left the wallet at the woman’s house and when she came home to get it last Aug. 12.
Buffalo Police Commissioner Daniel Derenda, who had suspended Missana after the incident, will now fire him for cause, the District Attorney’s Office reported. The conviction also means Missana cannot become a sworn officer anywhere else.
In his summation a week ago, defense attorney Thomas Eoannou called his client’s actions stupid and sloppy, but that his client was not stupid enough to jeopardize his job, his salary and his future pension for $100.
He conceded that Missana was wrong not to inventory the contents of the wallet and to log it for a more official reunion with its owner. Instead, he took it to the woman’s North Park Avenue house and, finding no one home, stuck it in the door.
Other witnesses, however, testified that what happened was more than just sloppy policing.
The woman who found the wallet in the ladies room at Caffe Aroma on Elmwood Avenue at Bidwell Parkway testified that, in an effort to find the owner, she opened the wallet and discovered a large amount of cash, at least $130.
A friend who was with her confirmed seeing the money.
After asking at the counter if anyone had reported a lost wallet, the women decided to hand it over to police officers who were outside, assuming they would track down the owner. Missana took the wallet from them.
Shortly afterward, the women found the owner, who was still at the coffee shop, and told her the police had her wallet.
After making a phone call to the officer’s district, the woman learned they were leaving the wallet at her home, about two miles away. She went home and found her wallet, but the money was gone.
In issuing her decision, Wolfgang said she found the women’s testimony to be “highly credible” and added, “They were good citizens doing what good citizens do.”
Missana remains free on his own recognizance. He faces up to one year in jail on each offense. Sentencing is set for Sept. 2.