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After more than four years, authorities are still in the dark

The Progress - Index (Petersburg, Virginia)

Hopewell, VA

HOPEWELL -- After more than four years, authorities are still in the dark about how drugs, weapons and $85,000 in cash disappeared from the evidence room at the Hopewell Bureau of Police. For Hopewell police, the case is closed.  "Our department has concluded the investigation," said Police Chief Steven Martin. "We're done." But Hopewell's Commonwealth Attorney Anthony Sylvester said that the grand jury was supposed to assemble to-day and discuss the case.

"They are still working on it, and it's a complex investigation," Sylvester said. The Virginia State Police, which launched an investigation in 2007, has not closed the case either. "We're still looking into this," said State Police Sgt. Tom Cunningham. He added that he wasn't able to comment further on the state of the investigation. Evidence first went missing in December 2005. Besides the $85,000, a dozen firearms, drug paraphernalia and drug samples in 87 cases went missing -- a total of 1,600 items. The police department started a review in August 2006 -- more than six months after the irst reports that items were missing.

A grand jury was formed in June 2006 and Virginia State Police began investigating more than one year later, in August 2007.

Under the new police chief, the department launched its own investigation last summer. But Martin is careful with using that word. "It was not really an investigation, but an audit of the police department," he said. "The criminal investigation is be-ing handled by State Police, not by Hopewell police."

Martin said that the auditor had a look at the department's entire operations.

"Overall, we had a very good look and we found only very few policies and cost items that require improvement," he said. During the audit, some of the items were recovered -- but about $20,000 and three firearms are still unaccounted for. Who took the items out of the evidence room in the first place remains a mystery.  "I don't even want to say that somebody too them," Martin said. "They disappeared, and we can't say more than that."

Police and city officials have also taken steps to assure that the mistake won't be made again. They installed a security camera system, created a bar-coding data base for all evidence and converted a large break room into an expansion of the evidence room.

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