DA: Upper Dublin detective killed himself after stealing drugs or cash from dozens of cases

Montgomery County District Attorney Kevin Steele speaks at a news conference Thursday about the death of Upper Dublin Detective Michael Gommer, who died in an apparent suicide in December 2016.

He was a well-respected police detective, a marathoner, a youth sports coach, and a dedicated dad to four children. Colleagues knew him as someone they could depend on.

But Michael W. Gommer, an 18-year veteran of the Upper Dublin Township Police Department, kept a secret for years: He was a drug addict, and had been stealing cash and drugs from the police evidence room.

Just as his secret might have been starting to unravel, he killed himself.

In a news conference Thursday, investigators said they had determined that Gommer stole drug and cash evidence from nearly 90 cases between 2010 and 2016.

"Addiction took over his life, ruined a man, his career, who had before been highly respected by his peers," said Montgomery County District Attorney Kevin R. Steele.

Beyond stirring shock in a well-to-do suburb,  the revelation could have a lasting impact: Investigators have identified 11 open criminal cases from which evidence is missing, and are  determining whether the cases must be dismissed.

"It's something we felt could not be sugar-coated," Steele said as he stood with police officers and township officials at a news conference in the Upper Dublin township building.

Gommer, 41, died in an apparent suicide at his Media home on Dec. 30, about two weeks after county detectives began looking into the missing evidence. 

They concluded he took cash or drugs from 87 cases between 2010 and 2016, Steele said. The missing money totaled more than $7,000. The drugs included cocaine, heroin, and marijuana. He called Gommer's addiction "significant and undetected" but did not elaborate.

Steele said the officer may have known at the time of his death about the investigation. But questions of what he knew, how long he had been using drugs, or how his addiction began remain unanswered.

Gommer's home phone number is unlisted. A relative contacted Thursday declined to comment. 

The detective left a wife and four children. His death stunned colleagues. 

"Nobody was more detailed, more professional, and more fit than Mike," said Upper Dublin's deputy chief, Lee Benson. "He was our star runner and police cyclist, and willing to serve in any way required. I was shocked to hear of his death."

Gommer's obituary noted that he was a graduate of Sun Valley High School and a former police officer in Upper Darby and Brookhaven. He coached his children's baseball, soccer, and basketball teams, taught law enforcement and first-aid classes, and was an avid runner who "took great pride in finishing the Philadelphia Marathon."

The deputy chief said he knew Gommer well and felt "nothing but grief and sympathy" for his family.

The Police Department conducts drug testing on officers only when there is reasonable suspicion to justify it, Benson said. In Gommer's case, he said, the addiction was too well-hidden to raise suspicion.

As a result of the investigation, the Upper Dublin police will put new procedures into place for handling evidence. Changes will include requiring that at least two officers are involved in every phase of handling evidence, and that a third officer is involved when evidence includes drugs, cash, or weapons.

Township Manager Paul Leonard said an outside law firm helped the department review and revise its procedures.

"There is no dismissing the fact that what Detective Gommer did was wrong, that his addiction was real," he said, "and that we must all recognize that no organization, including a township police department, is immune from being touched by drug addiction."