A former Kentucky constable convicted of planting drug evidence on people to create a false pretense for searches and arrests was sentenced Monday to 11 years and eight months in federal prison.
Michael “Wally” Wallace will have to serve at least 85 percent of that sentence under federal rules.
U.S. District Judge Robert E. Wier said jurors convicted Wallace of violating fundamental constitutional rights that protect people from illegal searches by the government and from being deprived of liberty without proper process.
“This whole case ultimately comes down to the rule of law in America,” Wier said. “You can’t pursue criminals by becoming a criminal.”
Wallace, 47, maintains he is innocent despite the conviction and plans to appeal.
Wallace had been in custody since he was convicted in June.
Constables in Kentucky are elected and have full police powers. Many do little police work, but Wallace was very active, making scores of drug arrests and planning to run for Pulaski County sheriff in 2022.
In 2018, however, the FBI began investigating concerns that Wallace was planting drugs on people to create a reason to arrest them and confiscate money or other property.
Constables in Pulaski County don’t get a salary, but their office can get a share of money or property seized in criminal cases.
A federal jury convicted Wallace and another county constable, Gary Baldock, on charges of conspiring to violate people’s civil rights and possessing methamphetamine with the intent to distribute it.
FBI agents found 5.9 grams of meth at Wallace’s house when they arrested him and half a gram of meth in the trunk of Baldock’s cruiser.
The prosecutor, Assistant U.S. Attorney Jason D. Parman, did not argue the two planned to sell the meth, but rather that they kept it in order to plant it on people to justify spurious charges.
Baldock, who also admitted shooting and wounding an FBI agent when officers went to arrest him, died in jail while awaiting sentencing.
Wallace’s attorney, Robert E. Norfleet, said Wallace grew up poor and suffered at the hands of his alcoholic, violently abusive father and later had a stepfather who forced Wallace and his siblings to fight each other as a form of discipline.
Wallace’s mother battled drug addiction and his children also struggled with drug abuse, Norfleet said in a sentencing memorandum.
As a result, Wallace focused on combating drugs after he was elected, holding down security and other jobs to finance his work as constable, Norfleet said.
“He hated drugs. So he used his office to try to make his community a better place,” Norfleet said in court Monday. “His goal was to get drugs off the street.”
Wallace also spoke in court, adamantly denying he ever planted evidence on anyone.
Norfleet asked Wier to sentence Wallace to no more than five years.
But Parman, the prosecutor, said Wallace targeted people who were vulnerable because of prior drug problems and made up reasons to search arrest them without cause. That is a line that a police officer can never cross, Parman said.
“That’s as egregious as it gets,” Parman said.
Parman also argued that Wallace violated people’s rights in order to pump up his ego and hype his record so he could run for sheriff.
Wier said he didn’t doubt Wallace was motivated at least in part by a desire to clean up the streets, and acknowledged he had a difficult childhood but had accomplished some good.
But Wier said Wallace undermined the bedrock principle of equal justice under the law. No police officer has the power to suspend anyone’s rights, he said.
“No man’s king in this country,” Wier said.
Wier said the evidence showed Wallace lied to justify searches and arrests.
In one case, Somerset police officers who went to back up Wallace at a traffic stop testified they searched the car and found no drugs, but that Wallace then went to the car, spent just a moment at the driver’s door and then walked back holding a bottle that contained meth.
Federal authorities argued Wallace planted the drugs to justify searching the motel room of a man who allegedly sold drugs to to the person he stopped.
The Somerset officers raised concerns about Wallace, leading to the federal investigation. Wier said they were to be commended for having the courage to speak up.
Wier also pointed to an encounter in which the FBI secretly videotaped Wallace while he searched and detained an undercover agent posing as a potential drug dealer with $11,000 in his pocket.
The goal was to see if Wallace and Baldock would plant drugs on the man or steal the money.
They didn’t, but video from the mall and later at the agent’s hotel room showed Wallace lied in order to charge the man with public intoxication.
Wallace signed a citation saying the man was slurring his words and was unsteady on his feet and obviously drunk.
The video showed none of that was true. Wallace also lied in an application for a search warrant for the motel room, and had Baldock strip-search the agent before taking him to jail.
The treatment of the undercover officer was “stomach turning,” Wier said.
Wier said Wallace represented the worst-case scenario — someone with great power but no requirement for police training and no oversight.
The judge expressed concern over the entire constable system for the same reasons.
“It’s an extremely dangerous combination,” Wier said.