KENT COUNTY, MI — The attorney for a former Kent County sheriff’s sergeant facing drug charges called the man’s sudden death, which now seems to be a suicide, Sunday “tragic” after more than two decades of faithful law enforcement service in the county.
Timothy Bernhardt, 49, spent 22 years with the Kent County Sheriff’s Department and was most recently a sergeant. He was forced to give up his job when he pleaded guilty in October to a reduced charge of maintaining a drug house, which carries a maximum sentence of two years in prison. Sentencing was slated for Dec. 11. “The outcome is tragic and his family is understandably devastated,” attorney Matthew Newberg said Monday, a day after learning of his client’s passing. Kent County Sheriff’s authorities declined comment on the longtime sergeant’s death, saying by email “we typically do not comment on any suicides.”
Newberg said he had just spoken with Bernhardt on Friday. Bernhardt’s guilty plea came after the Kent Area Narcotics Enforcement Team on March 17 raided the Belmont home of Timothy and Alyssa Scherzer, who were acting as medical marijuana caregivers. Police said Timothy Scherzer was acting as a medical marijuana caregiver for sheriff’s deputies Michael Frederick and Todd VanDoorne, and for Christine Tennant, the wife of Deputy Brian Tennant. Alyssa Scherzer was the caregiver for Bernhardt, of Rockford.
The four corrections employees were receiving packaged marijuana butter. The butter is made by heating ground cannabis buds and butter on a stovetop. The plant matter is then strained, and the butter can be used in cooking and as a spread. Though Frederick, Bernhardt and VanDoorne had medical marijuana cards, the Michigan Medical Marihuana Act does not protect patients who consume edibles, such as the marijuana butter.
Local attorney Bruce Block earlier called the case a “witch hunt” over a “hyper-technicality” in the law. The men made an “inadvertent mistake,” Block said. Tennant and Bernhardt accepted identical plea deals. As part of the deal, both were forced to resign and would have to testify against VanDoorne and Frederick in any further court proceedings.
Bernhardt, Newberg said, was proud of his longtime service with the sheriff’s department and his career in law enforcement. Others also thought highly of him. The day of Bernhardt’s guilty plea, as he left the courtroom, he was embraced by other sheriff’s deputies waiting outside. “That speaks volumes to his character and his legacy,” Newberg said.
Bernhardt’s wife, Jody, wrote in a Facebook post Monday of her husband’s strong dedication, encouragement and love for his family. “Tim was the most honorable man I ever met in my life,” she wrote. “He was a private man … but always encouraged me to persu(e) my dreams.” “Please pray for peace in our family,” she wrote.