Saturday , May 05, 2018 - 10:30 PM3 comments
A sheriff’s department is supposed to preserve evidence, not destroy it.
But for at least three years, under two different supervisors, a technician used the evidence room at the Weber County Sheriff’s Office as her own private drug stash.
She tore open evidence bags to get the methamphetamine inside, compromising investigations and allowing accused criminals to avoid trial. She failed to forward rape kits to the state crime lab for testing.
Would every trial result in a conviction? Probably not. Would every rape kit test lead to an arrest and prosecution? It’s hard to say.
We can say this, however — failures in the Weber County Sheriff’s Office evidence room put public safety at risk, and it is Sheriff Terry Thompson who bears ultimate responsibility.
It is time for Thompson to resign.
And since former Lt. Kevin Burns supervised the evidence room for nearly two years, he needs to end his campaign for sheriff.
Because neither of them can be trusted to fix the damage they allowed.
Thompson fired the evidence room tech in January. She’d overdosed while on duty a month earlier.
An investigation began Jan. 10. Officers found dozens of empty ripped and razored evidence bags scattered around the evidence room.
They also discovered eight rape kits piled on the floor. State law requires kits to be tested within 30 days. They dated back months.
“The condition of the evidence room is in total disarray,” according to their report, which the Standard-Examiner obtained through an open records request. “The room is completely unorganized. Additionally, open drugs, drug packaging, an open wallet, open money packaging, a box of spare change, miscellaneous jewelry and various open items of evidence were all lying in plain view.”
The tech told investigators she became a daily meth user, but never took it out of the evidence room. She chewed it while on duty, even visiting the room on her days off to get high.
Audits began turning up serious problems in 2015, but sheriff’s office administrator Steffani Ebert continued to give the tech good reviews.
Burns became supervisor of the evidence room in April 2016. Six months later, an audit warned of an approaching disaster.
“Based on what I observed and previous audits I have read, I can only conclude that if we don’t get our evidence custodian some help and increase our ability to either purge existing evidence or find larger storage facilities, the sheriff’s office will face an evidentiary crisis that will affect our ability to assist in the successful prosecution of crime,” an investigator wrote.
Meanwhile, prosecutors complained evidence was either disappearing or wasn’t reaching the state crime lab, but no one at the sheriff’s office listened.
County Attorney Chris Allred said he could not estimate how many cases had been tainted, but he expected the number to grow.
“I assume we’ll find a number of cases with admitted tampering,” he told Mark Shenefelt, a reporter for the Standard-Examiner. “We don’t know whether these are cases that have already been adjudicated or are still out there (active).”
Burns never addressed the August 2016 audit. Neither did Capt. Brett Haycock, whose professional standards and training unit conducts most internal audits.
Chief Deputy Klint Anderson said he never saw the audit, even though it was addressed to Anderson and copied to Burns and Haycock.
Thompson bitterly complained that no one had told him about the evidence room.
“Everyone that the Internal Affairs commander interviewed said that they felt that they were taking their concerns to the right person who could directly deal with the problem,” he said in a Friday email to Shenefelt. “My staff would be following their proper chain of command by taking concerns to Lt. Burns, as he was the immediate supervisor responsible to address any issues with evidence.”
Burns supervised the evidence room. And even though Thompson knew enough about the technician’s drug use to fire her Jan. 12, he quickly promoted Burns to chief corrections deputy, effectively rewarding him for almost two years of failure and neglect.
Then, in April, when Thompson finally learned about the extent of the evidence room crisis, he forced Burns to retire.
Thompson clearly has no clue what happens in his own sheriff’s office. Internal audits documented the disarray in the evidence room going back to 2015. Prosecutors complained. Yet somehow, Thompson remained oblivious.
The result? Evidence never tested. Suspects never arrested. Cases never tried.
Because of his neglect, Thompson made Weber County more dangerous. He put public safety at risk.
So did Burns, who somehow made it on to the June primary ballot.
Kevin Burns cannot fix a department he’s responsible for damaging. He needs to end his campaign for sheriff.
And Sheriff Terry Thompson needs to resign.
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