Former Newport News police officer sentenced to 25 years in child sexual exploitation case
A former Newport News police sergeant was sentenced Wednesday to 25 years in federal prison in a child exploitation case.
Michael Nicholas Covey, 39, who served for 16 years on the police force until his arrest last June, pleaded guilty in September to three of the seven charges against him.
Chief U.S. District Judge Mark S. Davis said he had been “struggling” with the case since he first began looking at it Friday, noting in part that it’s a rare kind of child exploitation case.
“I don’t remember or recall one like this before,” he said. “It’s unique because the victims ... were fully clothed and were asleep” or unaware when the videos were taken.
Nevertheless, Davis said, “it’s a serious offense” that deserves stiff punishment.
Covey was initially accused of taking two pictures of a clothed prepubescent girl, Jane Doe, and taking three videos of her as she slept.
In one clip of about three seconds, he masturbates toward the girl’s face before she opens her eyes, with the camera turning away. In another clip of six seconds, he masturbates into a pair of pink underwear with the girl sleeping in the background, facing away from the camera.
After Covey was arrested on those charges last June, he called a fellow officer to retrieve a bucket in the trunk of his police car. But the officer found the request strange, looking inside the bucket to find a cellphone. The officer turned in the phone to police, who sent it to the FBI.
On that phone was a video of Covey masturbating while a prepubescent boy, John Doe, played a video game across the room, unaware of what was going on behind him.
Attorneys from both sides said they have no evidence to indicate the videos Covey took were shared beyond the cellphone of a convicted sex offender in Ohio. Aside from those pictures and videos, court documents say he had 5,000 pictures of child porn on his devices.
Covey pleaded guilty in September to two exploitation counts and one count of receiving child pornography. Another child exploitation count and three child porn charges were dropped as part of a plea deal.
Covey faced up to 80 years on the three charges. Federal prosecutors asked for 30 years, while defense attorney Timothy Clancy asked for 15, the minimum for the three charges.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Peter Osyf said “it was only because of chance” that Covey’s actions were uncovered.
“He was not on anyone’s radar,” the prosecutor said. “He kept that area of his life concealed from everyone around him.”
A year ago, the social media platform Kik told the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children about images being sent to the Ohio sex offender. Federal investigators used metadata — or GPS coordinates stamped into the digital image files — to track them to Covey’s home in Newport News.
The crime “was a betrayal to the department ... and to the oath to serve and protect the community,” Osyf said.
In asking for the 15-year minimum, Clancy said Covey’s battle scars from his Marine Corps service — including losing friends in battle — helped lead to depression and alcohol abuse.
Sean McGee, who served with Covey during Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2004 and later as a Newport News police officer, wrote to Davis that he and Covey “saw many casualties, including many of our close friends who didn’t make it back,” and that he always looked up to Covey as a “standard of integrity.”
Clancy said Covey had a 70% service-related disability — from traumatic brain injury and other issues — from his time in the Marines, and PTSD from his time as a police officer. A K-9 officer in recent years, Covey also had earned several police awards.
“He was an excellent father, an excellent husband, and yet here we are,” Clancy said. “I can’t explain why he did it, Judge. I can’t explain why he didn’t tell (the Ohio man) to take a hike.”
When it was his turn to speak, Covey expressed remorse for his actions.
“I apologize for these terrible crimes I committed,” he told the judge, fighting back tears. “It took me getting arrested for me to know how out of control my life had become.”
Covey said his actions “cost everything I loved,” including his children, his family and his career. He said he prays his children “are happy growing up” and “have normal, happy adult lives.”
“An intervention by God” caused him to get arrested, he said. “It cost me many years of my life, but it’s saved my soul,” Covey said. From now on, he said, he will “allow God to control my life.”
Davis said he was conflicted about the case.
On one hand, he said, Covey appeared highly remorseful and may have seen things while serving in Iraq and Haiti that contributed to his depression — even as “that’s no excuse” for what he did.
On the other, Davis noted that the pictures and videos weren’t a one-time act, but “happened over the course of some time,” meaning the ex-officer had time to think about his actions.
After handing down the 25-year sentence, Davis said Covey’s seemingly heartfelt statement and positive message boded well for his rehabilitation.
“You are a smart person,” Davis said. “You have a lot of skills and gifts you can put to good use while you’re incarcerated.”
He also told Covey he’d have time to “work on restoring your relationships” and dealing with his depression and other issues.
“The court wishes you well on all of that,” Davis said.
Peter Dujardin, 757-247-4749, firstname.lastname@example.org