July 9, 2017
DA notifies defense attorneys on Dracut police evidence lapsesBy Todd Feathers, : 07/09/2017 06:35:21 AM EDT
DRACUT -- The Middlesex District Attorney is now providing every person with an active criminal case out of the Dracut Police Department a copy of a private audit showing that years of neglect and mismanagement led to a litany of mistakes in the department's evidence control practices.
By drawing defense attorneys' attention to the audit, the notice could open the door to delays, the suppression of evidence, and even acquittals that may not otherwise have happened in Dracut cases.
The district attorney began filing the notices June 9 in order to ensure defendants' rights to a fair trial, spokeswoman Meghan Kelly said in a statement. They have not yet been filed in all the relevant cases.
The decision came after a September audit by Pomeroy Resources Inc. found that hundreds of pieces of evidence were not accounted for in the department's logs, firearms and other items were mislabeled, and evidence was kept in inadequate, temporary storage lockers for years.
The Sun first reported about a redacted version of the audit in May. The district attorney's notice revealed that, in addition to those failings revealed in the redacted version, the consultants discovered that around $1,000 was missing from temporary storage lockers and the lock on the general evidence room door would "on occasion" fail to lock.
Following the audit, the officer in charge of the evidence room, Sgt. Gregg Byam, was reassigned and the department began reviewing its policies.Advertisement
"It's my understanding that since the report was completed those items have been fixed," said Dracut Police Chief Peter Bartlett, who took over the department in May. "We need to move forward from that and we need to ensure that the integrity of the Dracut Police Department is beyond reproach." The DPD's reputation has suffered in recent years.
The $1,000 in cash found missing from evidence storage in the Pomeroy audit pales in comparison to the $80,000 worth of marijuana stolen from a locked evidence trailer in 2003. That case remains unsolved.
Another audit of the entire department, in 2015, reported that failings at the highest echelons of leadership had created "a toxic atmosphere of fear and intimidation" that threatened officers' ability to do their jobs.
It is unclear how much of an impact the district attorney's notification to defendants will have in pending cases.
One attorney, who asked not to be named, speculated that the Committee for Public Counsel Services, which represents defendants who cannot afford a lawyer, might mount a large-scale challenge against any evidence coming from the DPD.
That could lead to delays in hundreds of cases, including those in which the defendant would prefer a quick resolution and sentencing.
Attorney Roland Milliard, of Dracut, said it is unlikely the audit will lead to wide-scale dismissals or acquittals. Whether or not evidence with a questionable chain of custody is admissible may depend on the judge.
"There are some judges down there that would be very sympathetic to that argument ... there are others who aren't," he said.
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