James Lenk
James Martin Lenk

As of this writing, I have a formal public records request on file with the

City of Detroit seeking access to the personnel employment records of James Martin Lenk. I made this request in my capacity as an investigative reporter for USA TODAY NETWORK. Why Detroit? Why Lenk?

Most people who watched “Making a Murderer” may not even realize Lenk worked the first four years of his career as a Detroit Police Officer. In his twenties, he did undercover narcotics in Detroit. He had specialized training as a sniper. He made good money for that era and his base salary increased accordingly, but then in 1976, he left the Detroit police force. Fast forward a decade. Lenk was married, living around Manitowoc and working at a Fleet Farm retail store. He applied at the Manitowoc County Sheriff’s Department with Sheriff Tom Kocourek. He was re-hired back into the profession.

During the 1990s, Lenk’s annual performance reviews as a traffic patrolman were often sub-par. “Somewhere around March (1993) I had a talk with Jim about his contacts,” his patrol lieutenant wrote on Feb. 15, 1994. “For three months, he had 11 contacts. This was far below the department’s average as well as the night shift. I want to see a marked improvement for the rest of the year … Last year, he had a total of 59 contacts for the year. This year only 40, that’s less than one per week.”

But that would not matter.

“Dear Jim: I am pleased to inform you that effective Feb. 10, 1998 you have been reassigned to the position of Detective/Sergeant. Your past job performance leads me to believe that you will handle your new responsibilities with the same diligence you displayed as a patrol sergeant. Your immediate supervisor is Chief Investigator Gene Kusche.” – Sincerely, Thomas H. Kocourek, Sheriff

May 10, 2003. “During the past five years as supervisor of detectives, you have demonstrated qualities of good leadership and sound judgment and I am confident that your knowledge and dedication will carry through with your new assignment as Lieutenant of Detectives.” – Sincerely, Kenneth J. Petersen, Sheriff

March 16, 2004, a performance review conducted by Mike Bushman, deputy inspector of operations. “James M. Lenk has completed 10 months as the investigative division supervisor and I am impressed. Lt. Lenk has his high powered team of investigators charged up and firing on all cylinders.”

On Aug. 1, 2007, Deputy Inspector of Operations Todd Hermann gave Lenk a stellar review. “During this past evaluation period Lt. Lenk has been busy with a high profile murder trial. The stressful environment created by the defense and the media was excessive. Lt. Lenk’s patients (sic) and professionalism during this event was an example for officers to follow.”

Lenk’s review came on the heels of Steven Avery’s murder trial where Lenk was asked under oath by lawyer Dean Strang whether Lenk planted Avery’s blood into Halbach’s vehicle and whether Lenk planted a spare key for her vehicle inside Avery’s bedroom and then discovered it. “Lt. Lenk represented the department professionally,” Todd Hermann wrote. “The outcome of the trial was positive with outside sources commenting on the level of integrity Lt. Lenk displayed.”

There were no areas requiring improvement or correction. “Lt. Lenk has set goals for himself that include providing his investigators with all training and tools needed to become the best criminal investigators in the State,” Todd Hermann wrote.

Lenk’s final review before retiring and collecting his police pension came in 2011. “Lt. Lenk has been recognized and granted the 2010 Officer of the Year Award,” Todd Hermann wrote. “To be nominated for this award is an honor, to receive it is truly an accomplishment.”