The York Dispatch (Pennsylvania)
BYLINE: ELIZABETH EVANS The York Dispatch
West Manchester Township, PA
District Attorney Stan Rebert said felony drug-dealing charges against two men have been dismissed because the cocaine evidence against them "was gone" -- allegedly stolen and ingested by a West Manchester Township Police detective who has since been fired.
"This is the first case" in which charges were dropped because of evidence allegedly stolen by Steven Crider, Rebert said, but likely not the last. "We're going to have to review them one case at a time, on a case-by-case basis, and decide whether we have the evidence to proceed with the charges," he said.
The problem of missing drug evidence in the West Manchester Township Police Department's evidence room first came to light April 8, as trial was about to begin for Jomo Barnett and Darien Wallace, both charged with drug dealing by West Manchester Township Police.
Crider -- who'd been on the township police force for 32 years and was a detective at the time -- directed his attor-ney to alert the prosecutor that evidence in the case had been "compromised," according to Crider's arrest affidavit. The drug trial was postponed, and state police investigated at the request of Rebert and West Manchester Township Police Chief Arthur Smith Jr.
Charges dropped: On June 1, prosecutors dropped the charges against Wallace, 21, of Pittsburgh; on May 26, they dismissed charges against Barnett, 38, of York, records state. However, Barnett is still facing trial on felony drug-dealing charges filed by Hanover Police for a separate incident, court records state. And Wallace was transported to Allegheny County on a detainer for an illegal gun possession charge, officials said.
Public defender Ron Jackson Jr., who represented Wallace, said he doesn't think Rebert had any choice but to drop the charges. "I think it was the right thing to do," he said. During the investigation, Crider told state police that, over time, he'd replaced 100 grams of cocaine -- the evidence in Barnett's and Wallace's cases -- with chalk, the affidavit states. State police allege Crider stole drug evidence in more than 100 criminal cases, sometimes replacing the drugs with chalk. He is also accused of tampering with official records to cover up his thefts.
Police allege Crider primarily stole cocaine, which he snorted and smoked, but also stole smaller amounts of heroin and marijuana. Years of thefts? Police said Crider stole drugs from his department's evidence room from November 2001 until April 8, 2009.
Crider was terminated April 13, three days after the township held a hearing on the allegations, West Manchester Township Manager Kelly Kelch has said. At Rebert's request, the state Attorney General's Office has agreed to prosecute the case, to avoid any conflicts of interest.
Suzanne Smith, Crider's defense attorney, has said he is very remorseful that he embarrassed his department, and has cooperated with the investigation. He is undergoing drug treatment, she said.
"He's an example of what can happen with an addiction," Smith said.
ADA assigned: Rebert said he's assigned senior deputy prosecutor Tom Reilly to review all the drug cases filed by West Manchester Township Police -- both pending cases and closed cases.
"But it's not going to happen quickly. There are a number of cases that we'll have to make judgments on, so it may take a while," Rebert said. "But we'll get it done. ... We're going to look at all of them."
Rebert said he has no idea how many cases Reilly will have to scrutinize.
For pending cases, prosecutors will have to decide if they have enough evidence to prosecute, he said. For closed cases, Rebert said his office will have to determine whether to ask a judge to overturn verdicts, if they were based on corrupted evidence.
"That would be the appropriate thing to do in that scenario," he said.
'Incredible' damage: The cases of defendants who pleaded guilty to drug-dealing charges filed by West Manchester Township Police will also be reviewed, Rebert said, but it's less clear what action to take in those cases, since those de-fendants admitted guilt.
"I never had any reason to believe Crider was a bad cop or had any kind of a problem. Obviously, I was mistaken because he's done an incredible amount of damage to the justice system and his department with his thefts and his drug problems," Rebert said. "It may result in guilty people being cut loose, and it obviously has already resulted in charges being dismissed because of his activities."
Crider, 54, of Lilac Drive in West Manchester Township, remains free on $25,000 unsecured bail. He is charged with 100 counts of tampering with public records or information, 100 counts of theft, 27 counts of tampering with or fabricating physical evidence, 21 counts of possession of a substance by an unauthorized person, and one count of possession with intent to use drug paraphernalia.
-- Reach Elizabeth Evans at email@example.com or 505-5429.
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