Each month, IAPE's primary instructor, Joe Latta, answers one of your questions. Consider writing us if you have a question that needs an answer. We would love to hear from you.
We recently had an issue arise in regards to Dispo's we receive from the District Attorney's Office. Our DA's Office is no longer going to indicate whether or not to release or destroy property as they have in the past. When the cases are adjudicated they are only stating "Handle in Accordance With The Law" on them. Can you let me know if you ever encountered this because it seems that they are removing themselves from making the decisions on property and placing it back on the Police Departments. I think it has to do with liability but this leaves us with almost nowhere to go if they don't give us direction.
The answer is yes, all the time. In most cases, there are generally no laws that provide the information you are looking for and the prosecutor may not want to say I don't know. Many departments base their decision on the "Statute of Limitations" since the guidance is generally not in statute. First of all, let's look at a very generic definition of the SOL - Statute of Limitations.
The Statue of Limitations is the legally defined period of time in which a criminal or civil action may be initiated. Once the statute of limitation has expired, a case may no longer be filed.
Most of our states statues are similar. However, the process of retaining or disposing of the evidence is generally never discussed. When dealing with biological evidence, some state statues are mandating that evidence be retained for a specific time period. However, most evidence doesn't have that type of specific time requirements. Generally speaking, that is not to say we have to keep evidence a certain length of time. For example, a person is arrested for petty theft and has no prior record. One item was seized and booked into the property room. Within 30 - 60 days, the subject appears in court and the case is plea-bargained to a $100 fine and no probation. Basically, the case is over! Why would we keep the evidence for one or two years more and especially beyond any SOL!
My suggestion would be to schedule a meeting with your chief and prosecutor for the purpose of explaining how your property and evidence staff needs official clarification and direction to dispositions regarding specific scenarios. Provide a list of such scenarios for discussion and hopefully there can be agreed guidelines for those dispositions.
Over the years, IAPE has been posting 100's of news stories from around the country that have had negative consequences for the agencies, employees , and in some cases the termination or retirement of police administrators. More often than not, when the investigation reveals a total lack of supervision. In our two day classes, we frequently use the term MBWA or Management by Walking or Wander Around! The term, refers to a style of business management which involves managers wandering around in an unstructured manner through the workplace(s), at random, to check with employees, equipment, or on the status of ongoing work. Many of the horrendous headlines could have been avoided if managers and supervisors participated in the property room. The following included stories can best be called Manage By NOT Walking Around!
Charges: Sheriff's employee ate evidence,
OGDEN - A former Weber County Sheriff's Office evidence technician who admitted stealing and using drugs - predominately eating meth - that had been collected as part of criminal investigations was charged with 40 counts of her own.
Candice Barbara Follum, 48, of Ogden, was charged in 2nd District Court with 20 counts of altering public records, a third-degree felony, and 20 counts of drug possession, a class A misdemeanor.
The investigation began last December when Follum was found to be "under the influence of methamphetamine while on official duty. She was suspended and later terminated from the sheriff's office," according to charging documents. Follum later provided a written statement to investigators stating, "Over the course of 2017, I took drugs (meth) from about 15-20 cases located in the evidence room. There is a box containing most of these cases located in the office in the upper cabinet where the evidence sheets are kept," the charges state.
During a follow-up interview with the Weber County Attorney's Office, Follum said "she had become addicted to methamphetamine while working at the sheriff's office and had been stealing drugs from evidence for three years. She admitted to using meth every other day. She indicated her manner of use was by eating methamphetamine. She claimed she only used when she was at work," the charges state.
When investigators found the box Follum was talking about, they discovered there was actually evidence from approximately 60 criminal cases that had been tampered with, according to court documents. "When confronted with the fact that the evidence suggested she took drugs from many more cases, Mrs. Follum acknowledged that it was possible," the charges state.
Follum claimed she would look up the cases that corresponded to each piece of evidence to see where it was at in the court system. "If the case was closed and she did not think anyone would come looking for the drugs, then that would be a case from which she would take the methamphetamine," according to court records.
In May, a report was released stating Follum showed red flags that something was up for years, but those warning signs were ignored by her supervisor.
Her colleagues filed complaints, her work performance plunged, she left behind discarded packages, pocketed money and jewelry, failed to send sexual assault kits and other evidence to the State Crime Lab, kept the evidence room in disarray and did not respond to requests from police and prosecutors seeking evidence, according to the report. "Multiple criminal cases were dismissed as a result of evidence related issues," the investigation stated.
The woman's supervisor, Kevin Burns, no longer works for the sheriff's office as of April 9
. Burns said he retired. Burns is also running for Weber County sheriff and claims on his Facebook page that he was made a scapegoat over the situation.
Supervisor didn't act on 'warning signs' surrounding Weber evidence employee
May 5th, 2018
OGDEN - Despite complaints from colleagues, prosecutors and others, a former Weber County Sheriff's Office supervisor failed to report concerns about an employee who later acknowledged she had used methamphetamine that had been stored as evidence, according to a newly-released investigation.
Over the course of a two-year period, the employee's performance plunged, according to a review made public by the office Friday. "The warning signs were present but ignored," jeopardizing criminal prosecutions and harming the reputation of the office, states the review released Friday in response to public records requests.
The employee left behind discarded packages when she took drugs from the county's evidence locker, also pocketing money, jewelry, purses, and other items, the investigation found. Additionally, she failed to send sexual assault kits and other evidence to the state crime lab, kept the room in disarray and did not respond to requests from police and prosecutors seeking evidence, according to their statements included in the report. "Multiple criminal cases were dismissed as a result of evidence related issues," the review states.
KSL has chosen not to name the woman at this time. A separate criminal investigation is ongoing, but no charges have been filed and no arrest made.
The woman's supervisor, Kevin Burns, then a lieutenant who went on to become a sheriff's deputy over a different division of the sheriff's office, allowed the behavior "to go unchecked and unreported," the report states. Neither is still employed by the sheriff's office.
Burns found evidence of drug theft on Dec. 11, spotting an empty, popped-open drug package, but did not report it to his bosses, the review alleges.
It adds that days earlier in December, colleagues believed his employee was overdosing while at work, with slurred speech, glassy eyes and bad balance. Burns said at the time he believed it was a medical issue, according to the report.
The evidence technician was fired in January, and Burns no longer works for the sheriff's office as of April 9. The office previously has declined to specify the terms he left under; Burns has said he retired.
Burns' former employee was placed on leave in December. In a personnel hearing Jan. 4, she acknowledged she had been using methamphetamine she obtained from the office, according to the report. She was terminated roughly a week later on Jan. 12, sheriff's spokesman Matt Jensen has said. Several colleagues suggested a drug test be administered to the evidence technician at several different points, but no such test was given, the report says.
The inquiry found her performance declined around the time Burns began supervising her in 2016, when an internal audit of the room and evidence-related record keeping revealed "several severe issues," including that it was "messy, unorganized with stacks of evidence everywhere." But the sheriff and chief deputy weren't informed, the probe said.
Burns was also told "by at least five separate people over a two-year period of suspicions that (she) was abusing drugs." Of the five, three were experienced narcotic investigators, the report states. Despite the concerns, the review found Burns didn't appear to take any action, complete yearly evaluations or document the complaints.
The investigation also revealed the woman appeared to have lost her key to the room's door, so she cut a hole in the door, crawled through and dismantled the lock.
Burns, who is running for Weber County Sheriff, wrote on his campaign Facebook page in April that he retired and was made a scapegoat. He said he tried addressing the issues, requesting more cameras and employees, and called for an outside investigation when the alleged theft came to light.
According to the report, the office is reviewing evidence from the room but says hundreds of pieces have been tampered with and others are missing. It says it will take thousands of hours to restore and the cost "is likely to be excessive."
"The public will undoubtedly lose trust," the review states. "Steps must be taken to restore the confidence in the office through transparency."
Report Faults Police Leadership In
Evidence Room Scandal
August 9, 2018
The attorney general's investigation into oversight of a Massachusetts police department's evidence room found that guns, drugs ($400,000), and cash were stolen for years, but determined no criminal charges will be filed.
The report released Wednesday said the officer in charge of the Braintree Police Department's evidence room died by suicide in 2016, and there is no evidence anyone else was involved in the thefts.
An independent investigation commissioned by the city, also released Wednesday, faulted a former police chief and deputy chief for failing to audit the department's disorganized evidence room and ignoring signs that the officer in charge was struggling with alcoholism.
Authorities say 185 criminal cases were either dropped or dismissed because of the problems. Braintree Mayor Joseph Sullivan said he was initiating disciplinary proceedings against two employees identified in the report.
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