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Defense attorney: SPD audit could have far-reaching results

Fisher Interactive Network,
BYLINE: Jon Humbert
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Seattle, WA

SEATTLE -- The Seattle Police Department's audit of potential misconduct has not yet begun, but it is already coming under public scrutiny.

The audit was scheduled in the wake of Thursday' suicide of an officer suspected of evidence tampering. The goal is simple: prosecutors and the police department both want to know what other possible problems Officer Richard F. Nelson may have caused. However, the consequences will not be so simple, says one attorney.

The 21-year veteran officer was found fatally wounded just hours after his arrest. And with the end of his life began unraveling of his mistakes.

"The problem is you don't know if that's the only thing he's ever done wrong," said John Crowley, a defense attorney. Two of Crowley's clients were found guilty in cases involving Nelson.

SPD says Nelson failed a so-called integrity test when he failed to book cocaine into evidence during an undercover sting targeting the officer. As a result, the department decided to conduct an internal audit into the last several years of Nelson's work "of all of the officer's involvement in any found property or any narcotic-related events that he may have been involved with in the last couple years," said Assistant Police Chief Nick Metz.

Investigators will have to review stacks of files from previous and current cases for possible evidence mishandling. And Crowley says the results could affect the integrity of the cases in which Nelson was involved. If a pattern of problems is identified, Crowley said, the courts will allow closed cases to be reexamined.

King County prosecutors are also concerned about the potential impact on their cases. They plan to conduct their own audit, but will allow SPD to take the lead on the fact-finding tasks.

Crowley says he welcomes the audit, but is concerned about potential compromises; he says he would prefer the audit be handled by an outside agency.

Seattle police has not specified on the details of the audit. It was not known how long the review may take, and whether any outside agencies will provide oversight.

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