[WBNS-TV, WSYX-TV], Floor64, Techdirt, techdirt.com
BYLINE: Tim Cushing
From the: 'controlled' substances, my-ass department
Let's start out with this story, which is graphically (and tragically) illustrative of the problem discussed later in this post.
A former police detective and Drug Enforcement Agency task force member committed suicide after being arrested for allegedly setting up drug sales involving substances seized by his department, WBNS-TV reported.
Authorities said 43-year-old Tye Downard hung himself inside his cell on Monday morning. The 20-year veteran officer for the Reynoldsburg Police Department had been arrested on Feb. 18 and charged with possession of drugs with the intent to distribute.
WSYX-TV reported that Downard made nearly $35,000 from the transactions leading up to his arrest. He faced up to 20 years in prison as a result of the charges against him, and nearly 50 cases in which he was involved will be reviewed.
The DEA seems very concerned about controlled substances. Internal control of these substances? Not so much. A recent Inspector General's audit found multiple problems with the DEA's handling of seized drugs, the most egregious of which appears to be this particular aspect.
We reviewed the DEA-6s for 250 exhibits to determine whether the gross weight of the exhibit was documented as required by the DEA Agents Manual. We found the gross weight was not listed on the DEA-6 for 128 of the 250 exhibits.
Over 50% of those audited had no weight listed. The New York office was the worst of those sampled, with 80% of its seized evidence paperwork missing this crucial element.
Considering the fact that sentencing is partially predicated on weight, you'd think the DEA would show more interest in maintaining an "unimpeachable chain of custody." Not so. The OIG spoke to DEA supervisors about this missing info and received a shrug, a post facto promise to fix, and a statement almost too stupid to be believed.
One manager provided no explanation, another stated that the missing weights were an oversight that would be corrected, and the third manager informed us that he was not aware of the requirement to document the gross weight of the exhibit.
Recording the weight is incredibly important. The above case -- where an untold amount of drugs simply "walked out" of DEA evidence rooms -- illustrates why the DEA must not only record this weight, but verify it periodically. But those in charge of maintaining the chain of custody seem less than concerned about their underlings' failure to do so. It's because of that attitude that a task force member was able to personally profit from the illegal sale of seized evidence.
The requirements established in the Agents Manual helps ensure the integrity of the exhibit for prosecution, minimize suspicions regarding the theft or loss of drugs during the seizure process, and provide a benchmark for future weight calculations.
The OIG recommends the DEA start doing the thing it should have been doing 100% of the time already. The DEA concurs and will presumably correct it at the speed of bureaucracy. The problem is that this is obviously a systemic issue that has gone unaddressed for years. This lax handling of evidence should call into question the amounts cited during prosecution, not to mention any statements in court regarding the integrity of the evidence it supplies.
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International Association for Property and Evidence
"Law Enforcement Serving the Needs of Law Enforcement"