July 23, 2021
ONTARIO – Auditors couldn't find $900 in cash missing from the evidence room of the Ontario Police Department and found indications other evidence may be missing, according to Police Chief Steven Romero.
Romero said Thursday that preliminary results shared with him by a team from the Oregon Association of Chiefs of Police showed a 90% chance the evidence was gone, but that continued investigation was necessary to examine sealed evidence untouched in the initial audit.
Romero plans to ask the Ontario City Council to fund a broader audit. At this point, Romero said he wasn't sure what the cost would be.
Police officials discovered that the money was missing around May 7 after the Malheur County District Attorney's Office requested the cash, which was being held as evidence in a criminal case. The case involved theft from a hospitality business. The agency then put evidence room technician David Worth and Sergeant Victor Grimaldo on paid administrative leave. Both employees will remain on paid administrative leave until a more thorough investigation.
"We are paying people to be at home. I'm not in the business of wanting to do that," said Romero. However, he clarified, "they aren't being accused of anything yet, and they aren't culpable yet."
If a more in-depth investigation confirms that the money is gone, Romero said an administrative or criminal investigation would most likely follow.
Romero said the only results he had at this time were from a verbal debriefing and that a written audit would be forthcoming from the police chiefs association.
In addition to the missing $900, Romero said the team had signaled that more evidence may be missing.
Romero said that he hasn't found any past audits of the evidence room, which is supposed to be audited every year, and that the room was so stocked with evidence that by the "end of year we will run out of space."
According to Romero, the disorganization is due to a lack of staff, for which he faults the city.
"Every position here is understaffed," he said. "If we don't change the way it's being done, we will continue to see inefficiency, we will run out of storage space and we will remain out of compliance."
Currently, the evidence room is staffed only by a part-time employee. Romero said he will request the city fund a full-time employee, which would allow for more thorough oversight of the room.
The forthcoming investigation, which is expected to proceed once the department secures funding, would allow for a more comprehensive review of the evidence room.
"We wish we weren't in a position to have to do this," said Adam Brown, Ontario city manager. "At the same time, this brought to light that we need to be doing this annually and our practices are not up to what they should be."